When it comes to teenagers, adults have a double standard. Our youth can serve in the military at age 17, and children as young as 14 have been tried as adults in the criminal justice system.
But when teens try to interact with adults in a meaningful manner? Too often they are treated dismissively, with little respect and no understanding. Sympathy, sure. But at times like these, when teens across the nation are speaking out, it feels that our leaders are doing everything in their power to brush them aside as irrelevant, too young to understand. They would like the young people to go back home, to be silent.
It is heartening to see that this time our teens are pushing back, demanding to be heard, going directly to the seats of power and addressing politicians face-to-face. I don’t know if they will be successful in the short term, although I pray that ultimately they will succeed in changing the cultural landscape to make it safer for us all.
Not surprisingly, all of this has reminded me of Purim (which we will celebrate next week), a story in which one man and one young woman together changed the course of history and saved their people from annihilation.
Part of that story has to do with hiddenness. Vashti refuses to dance before the king and his pals because she wants to remain hidden, does not want to display her body. Esther hides her religion. Haman hides his evil intent from the king.
And God is never revealed, although it is assumed by our sages that God’s hand was at work throughout the story, that God was present with both Mordecai and Esther as they navigated a dangerous situation.
Today too, God’s presence is difficult to discern. But this week’s Torah portion has an important lesson about shedding light on that which is hidden, about revealing the Presence of the Divine.
It is a simple commandment, to place a lamp at the entrance to the Mishkan, the portable temple that the people constructed to be God’s dwelling place in the desert (see Exodus 25:20-21). Every night, Aaron and his sons are commanded to light the lamp and tend it until dawn.
This task remains ours to this day. Shedding light to dispel darkness is still our job, is always our job, the one that was assigned to us as partners with God. Our mission is to shine a light in the darkness, without waiting for God (or anyone else) to light the way.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught, “Let there be light was the first statement of creation because… light is the purpose of existence as a whole. And each individual is a microcosm of the world. Light is there for the purpose of each [person] that he or she transforms his or her situation and environment from darkness and negativity to light and goodness.”
Today, the task of bringing this light has been taken up by our youth. My prayer is that they not be left to do this holy undertaking alone, that each of us who wishes to be a Light-Bringer will stand alongside them.