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Night Light

Yom Revi'i, 29th of Cheshvan, 5776
Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It's now the twilight of the Jewish year, when the glorious sunset of the high holidays fades away and we head into the dark time of year. It's many months to Passover, when day breaks again on the Jewish calendar. We go through the same cycle each year, enduring the oppressive dark of winter until the dawn of freedom in spring. "Vayehi erev, vayehi voker," "And it was evening, and it was morning" - each day begins with darkness and fear, but eventually light and love win out.

Watching the news over the last few months, it feels like the Jewish world, and all the world, is struggling through the dark of a night. The Jewish family around the globe suffers from a lack of achdus. In Jerusalem, we saw Orthodox Jews fighting with secular Jews over the culture of the Holy City.1 In the debate over the Iran nuclear deal, the Jewish community in America became deeply divided,2 and the deal strained the community's relationship with Israel.3

We also saw a lack of achdus within the family of nations. In Jerusalem, Jews and Arabs fought over the right to go up to the Temple Mount, the place destined to be a "house of prayer for all peoples."4 We saw Muslims stabbing Jews on the street, and Jews shooting many more Muslims. For some time, the Netanyahu government divided Jerusalem, "Jerusalem, built like a city joined tightly together."5 Some Jews, Muslims, and other peoples came together to march for peace, while others built concrete walls to separate. Vayehi erev - it's night - and the darkness is like exile, separating us from each other.

Yet as Jews, we know, vayehi voker, the morning will come. From the Exodus from ancient Egypt to the founding of the modern State of Israel, we've come through many dark nights of exile and into the daylight of freedom. It's evening, and then it's morning, and each "day" is different. Right now the darkness that we're struggling through is a lack of achdus. We can't see each other, we feel separate from each other, we need a little light to show us that we're not alone. The powers that be try to divide, but a new generation strives to connect, bringing together the different parts of our people.

The Jewish nation has a special ability to break free of the dark and into the light, but it's not only for our sake. HaShem charged the Jews with a special mission, "to be a light unto the nations,"6 leading all peoples in fulfilling G-d's plan for the world. On this day of creation, our task is to achieve achdus, healing the breaches in the Jewish family, and within the family of nations. If the Jewish people can succeed at coming together in peace, despite our differences, then we can inspire the others nations of the world to join together as one.

Each week on Shabbat we look forward to this great dawn, saying "... And it was evening, and it was morning, the sixth day. And the heaven and the earth were completed, and all their legion. And on the seventh day G-d finished His work that He made ..."7 In Jewish tradition, the number 7 represents completion. We wish each other a Shabbat Shalom on the seventh day of each week hoping for that seventh and final period of this world, when all peoples will live together in peace with each other and with HaShem.

Yet while Shabbat is about completion, it's not the end. Each week after Shabbat, night comes again and we journey into the dark of a new week. Each year after the sunset of the high holidays, we go through another dark period at the start of the new year. Though the sun sets behind us, on the other horizon a new light begins to glow. It starts with only a pinpoint in the black, but then another, and another, as the stars come out. In another month we'll celebrate Chanukah, the eight day festival of lights.

On Chanukah we remember the miracle of a light that was supposed to last only one day, but went on day after day after day - for eight days - and even to this day, when we kindle our own lights. "Eight is the number of infinity," sings Jewish reggae star Matisyahu in his Chanukah pop song Miracle, "one more than what you know how to be." On Shabbat we look to the seventh "day," the final era of peace in this world. On Chanukah we look beyond, to what comes next. It's the Jewish belief, and the belief of many of the world's religions, that there is more to life than this world - there's a much bigger world to come that is our ultimate destiny.8

As Jews, we have a special role to play in HaShem's plan for the world. G-d gave us the job of leading all of the nations to recognize HaShem and live together in an ethical and peaceful society. And to achieve that goal, the different parts of our family must unite. But while we are special in one sense, G-d gave all of the peoples of the world unique abilities, spiritual and physical, each nation with its own special role in HaShem's plan. I wonder if perhaps all of the nations of the human family might need to join up to fulfill our ultimate purpose. I think that could be the larger promise of our efforts for peace, though it may be far away.

For now, we still struggle through the dark of separation, vayehi erev. It's night in Jerusalem, in America, and in all of our communities. The different parts of the Jewish family, and the various peoples of the world, remain divided. We feel so small, and alone, and it's scary in the dark. But all it takes is a little light to see that we're not alone. Each connection we make matters, each step toward achdus with another Jew kindles more light. And as that light grows, it inspires all peoples to connect with each other, and with HaShem.

Sometimes the night is so dark that we wonder if we'll ever make it to the light of day. But the Jewish people, perhaps more than any other, know that's not true. Each week at the Shabbat table, each year at Passover, in every generation, even after thousands of years, vayehi voker, it will be morning, and we'll go into that light together.

Layla tov. :)

This post is dedicated to the memory of Chaim Haviv, 78, who was killed in Jerusalem in the attack on Egged bus #78 on the 30th of Tishrei, 5776, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan. May there soon be peace in Jerusalem, and may his neshama have an aliyah (may his soul go up).

1 Chabin, M. (2015, Sept. 13). Orthodox and secular Jews fight over shaping Jerusalem’s character. USA Today. Retrieved from Religion News Service.
2 Grossman, R. (2015, Aug. 26). Iran nuclear proposal brings discord among Jews. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune.
3 Ackerman, G. and Bloomberg. (2015, Oct. 1). Israel's divide with U.S. Jews exacerbated by Iran Nuclear Deal. Bloomberg. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune.
4 Isaiah 56:7
5 Psalms 122:3
6 Isaiah 49:6, et al.
7 Genesis 1:31-2:2
8 In Jewish tradition, the present world is called olam hazeh (this world) while the next world is known as olam habah (the world to come).