It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
The days have turned cold and dark. They always do at this time of year but like many, this year feels colder and darker to me. I write this on the shortest day of the year but it isn’t just the loss of a few minutes of daytime that creates the aura. All the Christmas lights and all the Chanukah candles did not seem to break through the darkness this year. We’ve become despondent and cynical and the cold has a dampening effect on everything we do because it is not only external. We are being bombarded with messages that tell us to internalize the dark in the form of fear and to embrace the cold in the form of hate.
As Jews, we know that appealing to humanity’s dark side by dehumanizing the “other” works all too well. Dehumanizing includes not only pointing out someone’s differences but also denigrating normal human needs and reactions as if only one group or one person is affected by that quality or condition. Nor are disabilities and bodily functions disgusting unless one is three years old, perverse, a bully or immature.
The rabbis told us to light a candle rather than stumble in the dark. It was not only literal, it was also figurative. Lighting a candle kept shalom bayit, peace in a household that would otherwise become chaotic. Enlightenment kept the Jewish people at the forefront of science, knowledge, understanding, compassion, a broader vision of the world. The MiSheberach (the One Who Blesses) prayer is a result of adapting ancient blessings to current needs.
One of the most enlightened prayers Judaism has, gives praise for the proper functioning of the openings and cavities of the body. “… for if one of these would rupture or be blocked it would not be possible to stand before (Adonai)…” We recite this prayer upon exiting the bathroom and it is included in our morning service. We recognize the body as a house for the spirit, akin to the Aron Kodesh, the Holy Ark, which houses the Sifre Torah. Just like the Aron Kodesh, we need to guard our bodies and what we put therein. We would not desecrate the Aron Kodesh by ladening it with idols, nor would we dishonor it by eating, drinking, smoking, or engaging in numerous other activities nearby. So too, we should not demoralize and debase ourselves by filling our bodies and minds with hate and fear.
As the light grows each day, may the light in our lives take hold. May the stories of strength and goodness begin to proliferate and remind us that being a light unto the nations requires seeing light in the dark.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have been proud that the words on Lady Liberty were written by the Jewish poetess, Emma Lazarus:
“…From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she
With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’ ”
For the mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is light. (Proverbs 6:23)
Wishing you and yours a joyous, healthy 2016.
 Rodgers and Hammerstein, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught, South Pacific ,1949
 The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus.