They walk in silence, shadows
cast on darkened streets.
They gaze upon the nascent moon
that sheds no earthbound light.
At every turn they see the glow
through misty panes of glass,
of beacons brightly heralding
the wonder of the light.
They stare into the sky once more
as if to probe the dark,
“Our lamps are lit,” they softly say,
“we now await Your light.”
There is a Midrash in Pesikta Rabati Chapter 36, which says, “Our Rabbis taught that when the King Messiah will appear, he will stand on the roof of the Temple and he will announce to them, to Israel, saying, “Humble ones, the time for your redemption has come, and if you don’t believe it, see (His) my light which shines upon you, as it is written, “Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of God is shining upon you.” [Isaiah 60:1]”
Rabbi Dov Berkovits answers a question on the Kipa website (Ask the Rabbi) http://www.kipa.co.il/ask/show/228896 in which someone enquired about the meaning of a modern Chassidic song, the words of which are derived from this Midrash (the adapted words and melody are by Yossi Green, sung here by Odeliah Berlin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaYc2XrgE-k).
Rabbi Berkovits comments that this Midrash is an introduction to Isaiah Chapter 60 which describes the redemption of Israel. He says that the first verse in the chapter addresses Jerusalem or Am Yisrael – the people of Israel and the phrase “your light” relates, not to God’s light, but to the transmission of a renewed spiritual energy which emanates from among them. Rabbi Berkovits continues that there is an important and compelling melding between the light that emanates from below – from Jerusalem or Am Yisrael, and from “the glory of God that is shining upon you.”
He explains further that the Midrash expands on this idea of the light that ascends from below, from the world and from man, and connects it to the image of the one who heralds the redemption described in the chapter – the Messiah – even though he is not actually mentioned in the chapter. The Messiah’s role is to focus the light that is always to be found in Jerusalem and in the people.
Rabbi Berkovits suggests that the expression “humble ones” describes the people when they are worthy of redemption. He says the redemption is not going to happen when we will all be prophets, rather when holiness and purity become part of our lives – when humility and integrity imbue both deeds and faith. Rabbi Berkovits suggests that the expression “and if you don’t believe” refers not to faith itself, but to belief in the redemption. The Jewish people, as the Midrash says, having undergone terrible afflictions in exile, might already find it hard to believe, after so many years of unfulfilled expectation, that now the redemption had arrived. So the Messiah addresses the people and invites them to look at their light, his light, in the light of God.
The Tanach is replete with allusions to light emanating from Divine but the people are also instructed to bring their own light. On Parashat Tetsaveh, in which we learn about the kindling of the ner tamid – the eternal lamp, in the sanctuary – the Mishkan, the Sefat Emet comments, “In the Midrash: “A candle of God is the soul of man” (Proverbs 20:27). “The blessed Holy One said: “Let My candle be in your hand and yours in Mine.” And what is the candle of God? That is Torah, as Scripture says: “For a commandment is a candle and Torah is light” ” (Proverbs 6:23). What is “a commandment is a candle”? Whoever does a mitsvah is like one who lights a candle before the blessed Holy One …”* By means of service, the Sefat Emet is telling us, we draw down divine providence and the light of God’s countenance into the world.
*From The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, translated and interpreted by Rabbi Arthur Green.