A micro-second of illumination is all we need

December 14, 2018 by Rabbi Chaim Ingram
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I have been privileged to lead Chanukah services on cruise ships for the past five years…writes Rabbi Chaim Ingram. 

Rabbi Chaim Ingram [c] on the Ovation of the Seas

Every experience has been unique. This year the new, additional light nightly was matched on the human level. We had new faces almost every night and so Shehecheyanu, the blessing recited on the first evening of the festival, was said by somebody or other on most of the subsequent nights as well!

But this year, the standout moments – and they were moments literally – occurred before Chanuka even began. Some might have viewed what transpired as coincidental.  To me they were wondrous.  They manifested on the first Shabbat of the cruise in almost identical fashion, during Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday evening and Shacharit the following morning.

On Friday evening just before Shabbat, I arrived at the final staircase out of breath – the ship is massive and my cabin was at the opposite end to the Shabbat venue – when I suddenly realised that I wasn’t sure which direction to face for the service. Traditionally, Jews face Jerusalem when they pray which, in Australasia, is roughly north-west. I had, of course, divested myself of all weekday accessories including the compass app on my mobile phone. (not that it works too reliably on a ship anyway!) Normally the sun would have been our guide but it had been an atypically, unremittingly dull and cloudy day and not a glimmer of sunlight was in evidence.  I asked a couple of friendly stewards if they knew in what direction the ship was headed but I might as well have been asking about the planet Mars – in fact, that’s probably where they thought I was from!

When I got to the room that was to be our designated shul – an exquisite space with an almost 180-degree view over the ocean – I asked my congregants if there was a navigational expert among them.  One of them, an older-generation, Yiddish-speaking Israeli, confidently pointed to what he believed was the right direction. (Looking back, he must have been pointing east which is, of course, the direction one faces in Petach Tikva whence he hailed.)  Somehow unconvinced but taking his word for want of any better, I started to lead the Kabbalat Shabbat service

Barely had I chanted the words from Psalm 96 Yismechu haShamayim – “the heavens will radiate joy” (ArtScroll Siddur, p. 310) than an extraordinary phenomenon occurred.  I must stress again to my dear readers who only possess these abstract words on a cold computer screen that not a scintilla of anything resembling sunlight had been seen all day.  But suddenly – and it really was sudden – the sky brightened and a deep-red sun appeared for literally not more than a few seconds a little way over the horizon before the clouds took over again. But those seconds were of course enough to point us in the right direction. I did an almost 180-degree turn and we continued the service with a renewed sense of awe and wonderment.  The Alm-ghty had taken cognizance of a little flyspeck of humanity talking to Him in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and had brought His sun out of its sheath for a few brief seconds in order that we should know which way to properly face when addressing Him!

Lest I should fall into the temptation to invoke the aforementioned C-word (coincidence) as the memory faded with time, the Al-mghty reinforced His sign for us the following morning.

The day had dawned, windy, wet, wold and utterly sunless. In fact, the weather was so formidable that the scheduled stay at the Bay of Islands at New Zealand’s northern tip (not that I could have disembarked anyway, it being Shabbat) was cancelled.  The words Yir’am ha-yam umelo’o –  “The sea and all that fills it will roar” (ArtScroll Siddur p. 372, early part of Shacharit) really resonated as I gazed at the heaving waves. As I was mouthing the expressive phrases from the book of Chronicles, I silently importuned G-D to bring the sun out again just for a second so we could again orientate towards Jerusalem.

Barely had I uttered the words from Psalm 19, La-shmesh sam ohel bahem – “He has set up a tent for the sun for them” – on the following page that I could scarcely believe what I was seeing.  A portion of the sky brightened momentarily and a yellow sun peeked out from the cloud for what I can truly say was not more than a second or two.  It did not appear again. Again, however, it was sufficient to matter for the tiny specks of dust-and-ashes (us) that were reaching out to the Creator of all in an undefined spot in His vast universe.

I cannot begin to explain why we were the recipients of such pellucid manifestations of His greatness and kindness on that Shabbat. But if I were to try to draw a symbolic moral lesson from these signs it would be this.

Sometimes we are privileged in our lives to experience a rare moment of intense illumination, a flash of inspiration, an Aha moment, a Eureka microsecond.   Sometimes that is all that it is – a split second.

But what really counts is what we do with those precious moments!

Comments

One Response to “A micro-second of illumination is all we need”
  1. ben gershon says:

    is there a filter that can be applied to j-wire that stops this rabbis pap

    ben

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