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Sarah Jane Weaver: How one Jewish phrase changed the way I talk about my own faith

The phrase from Rabbi Soloveichik — ‘The soul of man is the candle of God’ — helps represent the power of faith

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik at the Shearith Israel Synagogue in New York City

Elder Quentin L. Cook, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, center, and other leaders listen to Rabbi Meir Soloveichik at the Shearith Israel Synagogue in New York City on Friday, March 4, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: How one Jewish phrase changed the way I talk about my own faith

The phrase from Rabbi Soloveichik — ‘The soul of man is the candle of God’ — helps represent the power of faith

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik at the Shearith Israel Synagogue in New York City

Elder Quentin L. Cook, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, center, and other leaders listen to Rabbi Meir Soloveichik at the Shearith Israel Synagogue in New York City on Friday, March 4, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Ner Hashem Nishmat Adam.”

The Hebrew phrase, from the Mishlei Book of Proverbs, is beautiful.

In English it reads: “The soul of man is the candle of God.”

I first read the phrase while reviewing a talk given by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik — the senior rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in Manhattan, New York, the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States.

In 2018, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty honored Rabbi Soloveichik with its Canterbury Medal. The honor, which has also been bestowed upon President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, is given annually for the demonstration of courage and commitment to defending religious liberty for people of all faiths.

Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik

Since 2013, Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik has been the rabbi at Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City, which is the oldest Jewish congregation in the U.S.

Rick Loomis

In the address, Rabbi Soloveichik called the candle a “powerful and enduring” image.

“The human soul is a candle kindled by the Creator,” he explained. “Like a candle’s flame, the soul’s sanctity is so easily extinguished when buffeted by the winds of change, by the zeitgeist, by social pressure or by persecution. And yet like a flame, the soul, if protected, if sustained, if fueled by freedom, by faith, by courage, contains within it an infinite amount of power that can spark and inspire without diminishing, that can defy all expectation.”

In those short sentences, Rabbi Soloveichik summarizes the power of faith.

It is a power larger than each of us — a power that amplifies our personal potential. President Russell M. Nelson has said faith is a power that will move mountains.

Yet it is not something we often talk about — especially in the public square.

In September, the Faith in Media Initiative launched the largest-ever global faith and media study — looking at the portrayal of faith and religion in the media. The study, funded by Radiant Foundation, which is owned by Deseret Management Corp., found a strong demand across the world for more news media coverage on faith; in fact, 63% of respondents said high-quality content on faith and religion is needed. Media professionals, however, reported that coverage of these topics is rarely encouraged in newsrooms.

The study also found:

  • 53% of people globally believe media coverage actively ignores religion as an aspect of society and culture today.
  • 59% think it is important that news coverage reflect a diverse set of religious perspectives in content and reporting.
  • 56% agree there should be more nuanced coverage of complex religious issues.
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President Russell M. Nelson speaks during the Sunday afternoon session of the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on April 4, 2021.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Nelson said faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest power available to us in this life. “All things are possible to them that believe (Mark 9:23),” he said.

“Your growing faith in Him will move mountains — not the mountains of rock that beautify the earth but the mountains of misery in your lives. Your flourishing faith will help you turn challenges into unparalleled growth and opportunity.”

His message reflects Rabbi Soloveichik’s beautiful sentiment that all human beings have within us a light that reflects God in all His goodness.

In his address at the Becket event, Rabbi Soloveichik also spoke about the menorah — a candelabrum used in Jewish worship during Hanukkah.

These special lights are placed in the window to be “seen by the public, Jew and non-Jew alike,” he said.

Nine Chanukah candles in front of window at night

A menorah, a candelabrum used in Jewish worship during Hanukkah, is placed in the window to be “seen by the public, Jew and non-Jew alike,” said Rabbi Meir Soloveichik.

Julia - stock.adobe.com

Rabbi Soloveichik said that originally Hanukkah lights were kindled — not inside — but outside the door of Jewish homes.

“And the verse in Proverbs allows us to understand the lesson of this ritual,” he said. “‘The soul of man is the candle of God.’ Lighting candles outside the doors of our homes expresses that when people of faith leave their homes and enter the world, they take their beliefs and their religious identity with them. They do not check their beliefs at the door when they enter the public square. Their souls, the candle within each person, illuminates their path wherever they may lead.”

The Faith in Media Initiative says many in my profession can do more to portray faith and religion to the public.

President Nelson promised us that miracles will happen as we increase and share our faith.

It’s the same lesson shared by Rabbi Soloveichik.

The flame of a single candle can ignite other flames. In the process, the giver’s light is not lost or diminished, but multiplied.

This powerful sentiment is born of a singular truth: “The soul of man is the candle of God.”

— Sarah Jane Weaver is editor of the Church News.

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