An Open Book: Let There Be Light

Los Alamos

A theoretical physicist and good friend of mine revels in the observation that in the Scriptures God created Light first. As if the cosmic microwave background radiation were not sufficient evidence of the theory of the Big Bang, he can point to Genesis as further cosmic, or maybe Cosmic, confirmation. To me, however, there is a simpler reason why God would have placed Light in the epicenter of Creation.

Without contrast, without distinctions, there is no universe, and the most fundamental contrast is between light and darkness.

I felt that contrast increasing as night fell Monday night, and the difference between the encroaching darkness outside and the vigil candle in my hand grew more pronounced. The candle’s warmth, and the warmth of one hundred other candles being lit around me, felt more and more comforting as the temperature dropped. And the contrast that made me feel even warmer was that of a community coming together to comfort me and my co-religionists as opposed to those in other communities who felt vulnerable and afraid by expressions of hate. It was a warmth that penetrated even more, and I can’t tell you how much it meant to me and my family.

After we lit the candles and the darkness gave way to a soft glow, we closed with a few readings. The one that struck me the most was a letter by President Washington in 1790, thanking the Jewish congregation of Newport, Rhode Island for the welcome he had received during his visit a few days prior. In it he expressed his confidence that our infant democracy would protect all minorities, and that “Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.” Maybe the most memorable phrase in that letter asserts that our government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” I don’t know how well-known this letter is to the general public, but to American Jews, and I hope to the multicultural America that Washington helped midwife, it will forever strike a chord of comfort and historical acceptance.

The first verse of Psalm 133 forms the lyrics of a popular hymn traditionally sung at Jewish feasts, “Hinay Ma Tov  U’Manaim, Shevet Achim Gam Yad.” It is one of the shortest hymns in our repertoire, easy to sing, so we often invoke it when we gather with our sister congregations to celebrate an interfaith event. In retrospect, maybe I should have introduced it to our friends in the packed sanctuary. It would have been quite appropriate.

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”

Yes, how pleasant indeed.