Thought for the Day - Radio Scotland 20th February 2002

Two weeks ago, my son celebrated his bar-mitzvah ceremony. This is when a Jewish child, on reaching the age of thirteen, reads from the Torah, the holy scroll of Judaism, in the presence of the community. My son’s reading was on the theme of revelation, the legend of the appearance of God at Mount Sinai over three thousand years ago. Every religion has as its origin such a moment, when heaven and earth meet one another and humanity is briefly touched by the divine.

Whatever dwells in the mystery beyond our comprehension reaches down to us at such times, and we, in ways which are equally impossible to explain, rise up to meet it. This does not just occur in powerful moments of revelation like the one experienced by the Israelites at Mount Sinai, but also in very private, personal moments in our individual lives. My son standing before the community declaring his commitment to it was one such moment. It was an occasion where heaven and earth briefly met, where I was able to step out of the everyday to a level of experience which exists on a different plane.

It was on that same plane that I felt the absence of my late father from that ceremony. Yesterday was the first anniversary of his death - known by the Yiddish word Yahrzeit. In Jewish tradition, a memorial candle which burns for 24 hours, is kindled on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. I lit the candle and left it flickering in the hallway of my house. I passed by it many times during the day and experienced a gentle sense of its warmth and light each time I acknowledged its presence. Perhaps I even engaged in a private conversation with it on occasion, I couldn’t say for sure. But I know that I had a keener awareness of my father’s presence - and absence - each time I glimpsed that candle.

Once again, heaven and earth had met. I cannot say for sure where my father now dwells - the mystery is too impenetrable - but I have no doubt that he was closer to me while that candle glowed in my home. And he was there also at my son’s bar-mitzvah ceremony, touching this life in a way that is always possible when heaven and earth draw close to one another.

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