Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

How the Light Gets In

by Pamela Greenberg

Looking around the world these days it is easy to feel anxiety rising in one's chest and throat. The forms of pollution and suffering are endless. As in the story of Noah, the earth is full of violence. Change does not seem to be arriving in any great rush, and often it feels as though we are small creatures standing on a precipice with wind raging all about. The threats are terrifying, and the resemblance to medieval depictions of hell not small. Whether we are aware of it or not, our political and environmental landscape erodes our overall sense of well-being, gnawing away at our sense of holiness, sanctity, and peace.

We are accustomed to noting how personal problems affect our levels of stress. We are less aware, however, of the insidious presence of the political atmosphere in which we live and breathe. It is another dimension of our spiraling pollution: profanation of the sacred.

Looking around, it is easy to find oneself awash in fear, anger, and anxiety. But these emotions are paralyzing and rarely lead to real change in the world. Over and over, we must remind ourselves of the need to focus on the holy. Without it, we too easily fall into bitterness, a poison for the soul as well as for our work of healing and transformation.

But what is the holy? It is a concept hard to define. Its ingredients include wonder, joyful participation in community, beauty, and love. In its light, fear dissipates and what is left is forgiveness and strength, grace and hope.

The Torah tells Jews to "be a light to the nations." The only way that those of us committed to a life of self-reflection and political change can create lasting transformation is to begin by transforming ourselves. I truly believe that others will see that light and eventually follow it. In truth, we all have a deep longing for holiness, even those whose actions seem to belie this need -- those for whom words like community and justice have become distorted and degraded. It is only bitter disappointment in the absence of the holy that makes human longing turn to movements like the Tea Party, a movement clearly fueled by anger and divisiveness.

We must kindle our lights, and kindle the lights in one another. These are dark times, dangerous times, and at moments the global emergency room seems just around the corner.

Our light is kindled both by our longing and -- importantly -- our humility, our recognition that whatever we have to offer is both complete and flawed. In the song "Anthem," Leonard Cohen sings: "Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything -- That's how the light gets in."

I look forward to seeing the shining of that light, lighting whatever I can, and when my own light grows dim, being lit by others, friends or strangers, whoever among us who continues to hold a candle in the dark.

Pamela Greenberg is a writer and translator. Her translation of the psalms, The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation was published in April by Bloomsbury (see

Her articles in Tikkun include "Speaking Our Pain: Anguish, Wonder, and Comfort in the Psalms," July/August 2010.

Source Citation: Greenberg, Pamela. 2011. How the Light Gets In. Tikkun 26(1): 46

tags: Eco-Spirituality, Judaism  
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