This summer on a countryside in Poland, I (Rabbi Cohen) learned the secret of the lights. It is the pathway to unlock the upcoming holiday season of lights with joy, warmth and eternal impact. In the shadow of a farmhouse, I discovered hope in the midst of despair and light in a world of darkness.
The sun was bright and a soft breeze whispered in the air. The grass was lush and modest homes dotted the countryside as we walked on a long dirt road in a small Polish village called Markowa. I had no idea where we were going. We arrived at a nondescript barn, wooden and worn, with no special signs noting its significance. To me and everyone present, it seemed like any other farmhouse in the area.
Yet, within a few minutes of learning the back story, as I walked around the property, I was overwhelmed with emotion for I realized within the depth of my soul that I was walking on sacred ground.
What happened there embodies the essence of the secret of the lights. The power of the place can only truly be appreciated through another story that underscores the purpose of our lives.
First, a brief bible lesson about creation…
On the first day of creation, the world was filled with chaos and darkness and God created the heavens and the earth. Then God said “Let there be light. And there was light.” Jewish mysticism teaches that a ray of light emerged from the darkness. The light was so powerful that the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. The light was scattered into infinite fragments of light. They fell into all people and all events yet to be born and yet to occur where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
Six days later, God created humanity, Adam and Eve, as a response to the brokenness. Instilled within each and every one of us at birth is the capacity and responsibility to find the hidden light in all people and all events. To lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby restore the innate wholeness of the world.
This is a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people alive today and all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world.
Someone shared with me in the name of the Jewish mystic Rebbe Nachman, that the day you were born is the day God decided that the world can no longer exist without you. When God gives us life every day, he is whispering in our ears that he needs you and me, the world cannot exist without us and in turn we are called upon every day to heal the brokenness and reveal God’s hidden light in every corner of the universe.
With this background, you can more fully understand the eternal reverberations of the farmhouse I visited.
Back to our Polish farmhouse…
Joseph and Victoria Ulma were a devout Catholic couple and the parents of six children under the age of 8. In 1942, the Nazis were deporting Jewish families to their deaths as part of the Final solution. One night—a night that could have been like any other night in the village of Markowa—two Jewish families knocked on the Ulma’s door and asked for refuge: the Szall family (father and four sons)…and two sisters, Golda Grünfeld and Layka Didner along with Layka’s daughter. Three families, two Jewish and one Catholic, but all the children of God.
In the deepest darkness of the night, the Ulmas responded to the brokenness in the world around them. They risked their lives and protected these two Jewish families. Every day was a choice. They were faced in that fleeting moment in time with an eternal opportunity to save these other human beings and they rose courageously to their sacred mission. (Tragically, the Ulmas’ good deed was discovered in 1944, and all of them—17 people—were shot. The Ulmas’ beatification process is currently under way at the Vatican.)
Reveal your light
I want to share another story relayed to me by a friend. He wrote the following:
Last week I was in Philadelphia at the Amtrak train station. I was drinking a cup of coffee in the food court and a disheveled man in his early seventies came over to me and said, “I am not asking you for money but I am hungry and wondered if you could buy me dinner.” I responded yes and asked him if he wanted dinner from the Dunkin Donuts right next to us.
He asked me if I wouldn’t mind buying dinner from the Cajun restaurant a couple of stalls away. I was happy to do it and walked with him there to a cafeteria style counter where he ordered his meal. His name was Sam and I turned to him and said, God bless you.” He looked me in the eye and responded, “God has already blessed me. He sent me YOU.”
Another spark that had been hidden in the world from the very beginning of creation was revealed.
During the upcoming season of lights, we each must ask ourselves whether we have risen to the moment to reveal the hidden lights in our world. It is not about healing the world, by making a huge difference, but healing the world that touches you, that is around you.
Think of someone—or someones—you can reach out to and give them a boost. Make a commitment now to let them know how much they mean to you. Too many times we hesitate and that potential light is lost forever. We all must live with the urgency of the now. The moment we are experiencing is all we have and there is always light to reveal.
Let’s light it up this coming year and transform the hidden sparks into a burning flame of peace, love, sweetness and joy for all humanity.
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