28 May 2010
15 Sivan 5770
I thought I fully understood why the havdalah candle (the three-stranded, three-wicked candle used in the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat) is such a perfect symbol for Gann Academy. The multiple interwoven strands of the candle beautifully represent the diversity of our pluralistic community and the sacred work of building one community out of our diversity.
Last night, however, while celebrating Gann’s 13th year at our Annual Meeting and on the eve of reading Parshat B’haalotcha, I see new meaning in the havdalah candle as our school symbol.
The parsha opens with instructions to Aaron about the lighting of the Menorah. The word, after which this week’s parsha is named, “b’haalotcha – when you raise up” (when you light the candles of the Menorah), begs the question of why the Torah does not use the verb that we use every week when we say the blessing over lighting the Shabbat candles: “l’hadlik” (ner shel Shabbat) – “to light” the candles of Shabbat. Instead, when instructing Aaron to light the candles, the Torah uses a verb that contains the root A.L.H., which means “to go up.” The same verse goes on to say that when Aaron “lights” the candles, “ya’iru shivat hanerot – the seven candles will give light.” It does not say that the seven candles will be lit by Aaron, but rather that they will burn brightly on their own, as if to say that Aaron will perform an initial ignition that will result in the candles’ ongoing radiation.
Perhaps, this word, “b’haalotcha” implies that there is something more going on when Aaron lights the candles than simply generating a flame. The lighting of the menorah is part of sacrificial worship, and Aaron is actually elevating the fuel, the fire, the energy of the flame to a new level of sanctity. As human beings, we, too, have the capacity to “l’haalot” – to lift up, to elevate, to ignite the spirits of those around us. I felt this concept of “l’haalot” last night at our Annual Meeting. From the business overview given by our Board President to the student d’var Torah to the performances by the Gann Chorus and ShenaniGanns, the Gann Juggling Club, and the Gann Jazz Ensemble, the spirit of each presentation captivated and energized the room.
This brings me back to the image of the havdalah candle. Maybe the reason why we are required to make havdalah over a candle with multiple interwoven wicks is to remind us about the potential power of our collective passion. If you look closely at the havdalah candle while it is catching fire, you see that one wick ignites slowly and then feeds the other wicks, which, in turn, ignite the original wick’s flame to higher levels until each wick burns brightly. The combination of wicks produces a massive, torch-like flame, with the wicks, quite literally, firing each other up. This kind of contagious energy is what makes Gann such a special community. Through our commitment to pluralism, our love of learning, our Jewish journeys, and our deep respect for each other, we provide the fuel that can “l’haalot”, that can light, ignite, and elevate the holy sparks in one another and generate an inspiring and transformative communal flame.
When we achieve this, our students become like the seven candles of the menorah—burning brightly on their own with confidence and conviction—whose passion about learning and about their Jewish high school experience light the way for our community and the Jewish future. As one of our students said last night, it is an honor and a joy to be part of this amazing community.
Rabbi Marc Baker