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Turning Darkness to Light #635

07/10/2020 04:46:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Turning Darkness to Light


It’s been almost eight years since Hurricane Sandy blew its way through the New York area, most notably for us perhaps, across Oak Lane, in our small city of Glen Cove.

Patte and I still talk about that time, where huddled in front of a transistor radio, we listened to weather reports as a blanket of rain descended from the heavens.

In retrospect, we did lots of things wrong. With son John, we slept huddled in a front bedroom, the last place experts advised people to be.

But as hundred-year-old oaks fell around us, we found comfort in each other.

Yet, to this day, there is one blessing, which I’ve come to particularly appreciate — and it began on October 30, 2012.

It’s called “morning.”

If you are from the New York area, you may remember how alone and apprehensive you felt as the sun set each evening — only to feel refreshed the next morning through the gift of natural light.

It was during those two weeks without electricity that I truly came to appreciate the prayer which we recite each morning: “Praised are You, our God, who rules the universe, creating light and fashioning darkness.”

Indeed, in this world of bright Broadway lights, and continuous power, we tend to take for granted the separation between day and night.

Our 18-month-old granddaughter gets it. Every morning, she marches into every room in our house, and with her first full sentence, commands me, as she points to every lamp in the room to “turn it on.”

And then she claps and laughs.

Clara appreciates that this is a true miracle. She understands how truly amazing it is that we can lift a switch on one side of the room, and a chandelier will light up 20 feet away.

Which brings us to this week’s Torah portion, named after Pinchas — a zealot who committed murder to apparently honor God’s name. It’s not one of my favorites. There is a lot of a sacrificing going on — and yet another census.

Yet there is single phrase, within some very detailed instructions, which catches the eye of our Sages.

The Israelites were told to offer items to God — as it is written in many bibles — at “twilight.” But this is a very weak translation. In Hebrew, the phrase used is Bein Ha’Arbayim — between the evenings. (Numbers 28:4)

What’s the difference?

The Torah often teaches us “to do sacred things, at sacred times in sacred places.”

In the morning, we tend to awaken full of optimism. The words “good morning” are usually spoken with more enthusiasm than “good evening.” We begin each day with renewed hope and happiness.

But this is not always true about evenings.

It is noted in the Midrash, our collection of ancient wisdom and interpretations, that we face darkness and challenges “between the evenings.” It also observes that we view life not through the whites of our eyes, but rather through the darkness of our pupils.

It is through that darkened lens that we identify light.

Just as God divided light and darkness at the beginning of time, we possess the ability to extract positivity through the challenges we face “between the evenings.”

The Hebrew word for sacrifice is Korban which is closely related to the verb L’Karev — to bring closer. It guides us towards the idea that when we sacrifice or give up something — time, money, our selfishness — we bring God and life’s inherit beauty closer.

And while our Sages did not particularly embrace pain and travail, they recognized the light which can emerge on the other side.

As the Zohar, the Kabbalah’s primary text reminds us “There is no light like the light which emerges from darkness.” Or as the Talmud reminds us, “A person does not learn unless they fail.”

Do we enjoy difficulty? Not particularly. Have the challenges we have recently weathered been welcomed? Of course not.

But “between the evenings,” there is much we have learned. As the curve flattens in the New York area, we are currently looking at the world, albeit cautiously, with the light of a new morning.

It’s why our Sages noted that the Torah used the specific words, “between the evenings.” In ancient times, those gifts and sacrifices were often used to feed those in need, or otherwise elevate the wider community. 

And by participating in that sacred evening ritual, the giver was brought closer to God by giving up something tangible — therefore creating space for new possibilities.

Just a little bit longer, friends. There is so much we have experienced during the last few months, but have you noticed how much brighter we are feeling now that life is gradually returning to normal?

These challenging months will last for a relatively short time. But our lives are longer than that, and eventually, evening will turn to morning.

Yes, we continue to witness incalculable pain and suffering, but we have also learned to appreciate our mortality, cherish our blessings, and embrace those who surround us.

For life is not just about happiness, it is about the journey we pursue to get there — “between the evenings.” For at the core of all existence there is light.

I am reminded of that each morning through the fresh eyes of our granddaughter. She is never happy about going to bed, but as she arises, she reminds me to “turn it on.”

And I do.

Shabbat Shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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