Tikkun olam: Finding the light in darkness

Tikkun olam: Finding the light in darkness

Light can mean brightness and illumination.

“There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” — Edith Wharton

I have recently been thinking about the word light. Like many words, it has widely varying meanings. Light can mean brightness, illumination. It can also mean lacking in weight. Light has been on my mind because the world seems dark and heavy at present. The days are too short, daylight much too scarce. The news is filled with weighty items, some too heavy to bear. We long for lightness, in environment and being. It is at these times that we look to others to help pull us through.

I have spent the year dedicating myself to working at tikkun olam, the ancient Jewish concept of mending or repairing the world. In modern usage it refers to the betterment of the world by relieving human suffering, achieving peace and mutual respect among individuals and peoples, and protecting the planet from destruction. I committed myself to giving my all to help the people, groups and causes that I believe will make life better for everyone. It has been a grand experiment in endurance and faith.

I hit the proverbial wall on Oct. 27 when the darkness and heaviness of hate committed in a synagogue in Pittsburgh made me want to pull the covers up over my head and ride out the rest of the year that way. In that moment of deep weariness and an overwhelming sense of futility, I was lifted up by my community of friends, specifically a sisterhood that has developed of like-minded community activists. They helped me to remember the good and to know that they would keep the light burning until I found again my spark. I was heartened too during this time by the strength and beauty of my Jewish traditions. Together we stood, prayed, sang and welcomed all of Juneau into our synagogue to grieve with us. The temple was filled to overflowing and my heart, even in this darkest of times, found joy in gathering and sharing as one people.

As Albert Schweitzer said:

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

On the evening of Dec. 2, we begin Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, a holiday that commemorates the survival and victory of a small band of people over a much larger, stronger force and the miracle of one night’s worth of lamp oil lasting instead for eight nights. Each night, we will light the Hanukkah candles to brighten the world, to lift the burden, to remember. For eight nights we will remember that we have, we can, and we will overcome the longest of odds. For eight nights we will remember we can and we will continue the work to heal the world.

A favorite song at Hanukkah is Light One Candle, written by Peter Yarrow. We sing the words:

Light one candle for the strength that we need

To never become our own foe.

And light one candle for those who are suffering

Pain we learned so long ago.

Light one candle for all we believe in

That anger not tear us apart.

And light one candle to find us together

With peace as the song in our hearts.

Don’t let the light go out!

It’s lasted for so many years!

Don’t let the light go out!

Let it shine through our hope and our tears.

May we all keep the light burning for ourselves and for our neighbors. May we all find strength in family, community, faith and tradition. May we all be the candle, the mirror and the spark.


• Patricia Turner Custard wrote this on behalf of Congregation Sukkat Shalom. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.


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