A fountain of light for all nations


If you live in Rhode Island, you’ve probably been to Allie’s Donuts, a legendary stop on the way to Narragansett. I’m sorry to report that they fry their famous donuts in animal fat (not Kosher).  However, I do spend a fair bit of time across the street, at Allie’s animal feed store.

Recently I was picking up some Purina goat chow and grassy hay when the friendly woman at the register said, “Boker tov, rabbi!”  She was proud to share what she had learned on her recent church mission to Israel.

“Rabbi, it is my husband’s birthday,” she continued. “Please can you give him the ironic blessing?”

“Ironic? Oh, you mean the Aaronic blessing of the high priest and the whole Cohen family? Isn’t it ironic – we just chanted that prayer from our weekly Torah reading.”

At this point, the other customers were getting shpilkes, and the look on her husband’s face told me he wanted out.

“I am from the tribe of Levi,” I said. “I can wash the hands and feet of the Kohen, but I don’t have any special ability to bless. Your blessing has more power since we give blessings with love and you clearly love him very much.”

“Rabbi, do you think they are going to build the Third Temple?”

I responded, “For 2,000 years we have been praying every day to return and rebuild our Holy Temple. It is hard to imagine how this would actually happen any time soon. However, my friend Steve is a Kohen, and I’m sure when the time comes, he would be happy to bless your whole family.”

July 11 is the 17th day of Tammuz, when Jews around the world will fast to commemorate the day when the Romans breached the walls of the Second Temple. It was the beginning of the destruction of the Temple. Today, about half of the world’s Jews live in Israel and the rest of us are displaced in a “foreign” land. 

In the midrash and Kabbalah, Israel is compared to the moon, whose greatness lies in her power to receive and reflect light. Sometimes in history she is bright and full and at other times her light is completely hidden. Our mission is not to convert everyone to Judaism, but rather, as the prophet Isaiah said, we are to become an “ohr lagoyim,” a light unto the nations. This means we are to enlighten other nations with our righteous way of life and the wisdom of our holy Torah.

As a post-modern Jew, I am glad to say that in addition to the Torah, I have also been personally enlightened by my Christian, Muslim and Buddhist friends and their traditions. Maybe Mama Adamah (Earth) is like the human body, which has multiple chakras (energy points) – Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca, Uluru Ayers Rock, etc. – each one reflecting a unique spectrum of Divine Light.

Traditional Judaism asserts that if we rebuild the Temple, Jerusalem will become a fountain of light for the whole world. 

In 2,000 years of exile, we have never been this close, yet we have also never been this far. Most contemporary Jews are embarrassed and even horrified by the thought of building a Third Temple. They warm up to the idea a bit more when I ask them, “What if the Temple Mount was shared by all of humanity as a holy site that is kept by Muslims and Jews?” It might seem impossible, but according to Dr. Moshe Sharon of Hebrew University, it has already happened.

Some early Arabic sources from the time of the Muslim conquest report that Jews lit a menorah in the Bayt al-Maqdis’ (Arabic for Beit Hamikdash, or Holy Temple), burned incense and received blessings from “wuld Harun,” Arabic for “the sons of Aaron.” An early Jewish midrash (Nistarot Rashbi) calls Muslims the initiators of Israel’s redemption and refers to one Muslim ruler as the “Builder of the House of the Lord.”    

Once it was Christians who persecuted the Jews. Today our Christian friends are almost as excited about our return to Israel as we are.  If healing can happen between Christians and Jews, then with God’s help, so may it be for Jews and Muslims. Amen.

AARON PHILMUS is rabbi of Torat Yisrael in East Greenwich.