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Turning Space into Action
Although summer doesn’t officially start until the 21st, my mind is already there. When I think of summer, I have so many sensory associations which I imagine many of you do as well. The strong smell of sunscreen takes me to camp, basking in the rays of the sun while plunging into water to cool off. The smell of food cooking on a grill brings me memories of convivial feasts with family and friends. Sometimes it’s the sweetness of freshly scooped ice cream in a waffle cone that transports me to summers of yore.
My personal favorite memories of summer have to do with long days, usually ending in a game of baseball which gets played into twilight until it’s too hard to make out the white of the ball. As darkness would set in, I remember being drawn to lightning bugs (or fireflies as others call them). We would catch them in little mason jars we had lying around the house, eventually letting them go, but not before marveling at the wonder of their little bodies containing so much illumination.
The nostalgia of never ending days and an empty schedule certainly elevates those memories. I also think there’s something important to draw from those lightning bug searches. We are always seeking light bringers.
Summer is a unique time in the Jewish calendar. There are no grand holidays or festivals to throw our energy into. We have a minor fast (the 17th of Tammuz) and a major fast (the 9th of Av). It gives us time to think about, breathe into, and recalibrate our Jewish identities. A beautiful text from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (homily for Shavuot 3) offers a powerful meditation on how we might fill that time.
The third component follows the words of the Ramban on the verse, “Do not wake or rouse love, until it pleases!” (Song of Songs 2:7). [Ramban] explains that, when a person experiences an awakening of love and awe for the Holy One, immediately she will see fit to make a vessel for this awakening, meaning that she must immediately perform a mitzvah, to give tzedakah, or immediately sit and learn, or something of that nature. Because it’s known that this awakening that comes to a person suddenly is the light that flows down in abundance from above, and it’s like a soul, insofar as one must clothe it in a body in order to strengthen it and give it a foundation so that it does not slip away, God forbid.
While he is commenting on the holiday of Shavuot, it is an instructive message for this time of year when we have a little bit more space in our Jewish lives. Namely, utilize the time that you have to reconnect with the Divine. To do that, find the feeling inside of you that draws you toward an action. In doing that action, you will have then brought a little bit more light into the world.
That light, he notes, is a reflection of God’s love for us. It is fleeting though. When we can “clothe” it, it gives it staying power. Maybe that’s the mystery of the lightning bug that draws us in. We are all in search of a little bit more of that light and it brings us to something greater than ourselves. When we can give it a home, it can have a lasting impact on us and the world.
Sending wishes for a healthy and joyous summer