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Two ways of dealing with the darkness in our lives

01/13/2017 09:01:37 AM


We are all afraid of the dark. We might not admit it so openly, but when darkness creeps up on us, we naturally become frightened. Anxieties tend to swim to the surface when it is dark. We realize that we have less control over our environment and that our senses are tempered. Our mood shifts and our emotions become more intense. Maybe we feel a little bit more vulnerable.


I would like this morning to talk about how to confront and overcome darkness and I am going to present two models, both of which come from the first human being—adam harishon--and the first two times that he experienced physical darkness. What was the first time that Adam experienced darkness?


Midrash in BR reads as follows:

 כיון ששקעה החמה במ"ש התחיל החושך ממשמש ובא ונתירא אדם הראשון

When the sun sank at the termination of the Sabbath, darkness began to set in. Adam was terrified [thinking] “surely the darkness shall envelop me” (Psalms 89:11)…Not on Friday night, because Hashem did not let the sun set on the first night because it was shabbas and he gave a special honor to the first Shabbat, says the midrash. The first time that the sun began to set was on Shabbat afternoon. Imagine the scene, the sun setting without knowing that it would rise again. No wonder Adam was frightened and scared!

מה עשההקב"ה זימן לו שני רעפים, והקישן זה לזה ויצא מהן אור ובירך עליה

What did the Lord do for him? He made him find two flints, which he struck against each other. Light came forth and he said a blessing over it…

מה בירך עליה בורא מאורי האש

What did he bless upon it? "[Blessed are You...] the creator of the light of the fire".

אתיא כשמואל דאמר שמואל

מפני מה מברכין על האור במוצאי שבת מפני שהיא תחלת ברייתה

This [story] comes in accord with Shmuel, for Shmuel said "Why do we make a blessing upon fire at the end of Shabbat? Because that was the beginning of its creation."


This midrash explains the origins of the Havdalah candle  and also details Adam Ha-Rishon’s first encounter with darkness.


The second encounter with darkness happened months later, sometime after the summer solstice but before the winter solstice. The Gemara in Avodah Zarah 8b explains as follows:

ת"ר: לפי שראה אדם הראשון יום שמתמעט והולך, אמר: אוי לי,

שמא בשביל שסרחתי עולם חשוך בעדי וחוזר לתוהו ובוהו,

וזו היא מיתה שנקנסה עלי מן השמים,

עמד וישב ח' ימים בתענית ובתפלה

כיון שראה תקופת טבת וראה יום שמאריך והולך, אמר: מנהגו של עולם הוא

Our Rabbis taught: When Adam saw the day getting gradually shorter, he said, ‘Woe is me, perhaps because I have sinned, the world around me is being darkened and returning to its state of chaos and confusion; this then is the kind of death to which I have been sentenced from Heaven!’ So he began keeping an eight days’ fast and praying. But as he observed the winter solstice and noted the day getting increasingly longer, he said, ‘This is the world's natural course’,


In comparing these two fascinating narratives, there is one critical difference that I want to draw your attention to: How did Adam confront and overcome his fear of darkness? In the second experience--, Adam is relatively passive; he fasts and waits for the situation to change. He waits for Hashem to bring the light and indeed that’s what happened. The way of the world is that darkness and light are part of natural cycle.


In the first story, the opposite is the case. Hashem invites Adam to take matters into his own hand by commanding him to gather supplies—two flint stones—to  make sparks and fire in order to eliminate the darkness in his midst.


I believe that these two experiences are archetypal. They represent the two ways in which we can confront and overcome darkness. Either we wait with hope and confidence until the darkness passes and the light comes. Sometimes this is the best we can do—to live with deep Emunah in Hashem and the goodness of the world--especially in tragic situations when so much is beyond our control.


The other option, is to grab the bull by the horns, as they say, and figure out somehow, someway to kindle a flame in order to proactively push away the darkness. These two midrashim—give us two directions to deal with darkness—sometimes we need to let it pass and sometimes we need to take it head on.


Tonight we will make havdalah and then we will light the first candle on our menorahs (which is the proper order at home, but the opposite at shul). Both of these acts of kindling fit into the second category. Both are proactive rituals that push away darkness. This evening, as motzei Shabbat and the first night of Chanukah converge, this midrash gives us something to think about. Namely, that we are meant to take the initiative and to produce light with our own hands.


And we could even go a level deeper into the symbolism of the incremental lighting of the menorah and suggest that we start with one small flame every night and cap it at 8, the message being that we don’t get rid of darkness in a flash but we slowly and incrementally add small amounts of light in order to contend with the darkness in our lives. We cannot bring an end to darkness but we can soften its affects. We can make it livable, tolerable and bearable, one small candle at a time.


As we sing the sweet melody with our families tonight—Baruch ata Hashem--and we get to the word L’hallik ner shel Chanukah, this should be our kavana, to soften the darkness in our midst.


There is lots of darkness surrounding us

·      Turmoil in our national political discourse

·      Recent fires which engulfed our brothers and sisters in Israel

·      The genocide happening in Syria

·      The darkness which on occasion touches all of us all of us—who are just overwhelmed by ordinary life and struggling to make everything work.

There is a lot of darkness around us and we need to soften it through small acts of courage and kindness to friends and strangers alike.  


I will offer one very concrete way to do this with regard to strangers in our midst. As many of you know, we have a committee that has formed in the shul led by Devorah Kosowsky and Dede Komisar to try and figure out how our shul can leverage our talents to help Syrian refugees in our geographical area. The committee has been in conversation with Jewish Family Services of metrowest who are taking responsibility for settling 7 Syrian families and maybe more—depending on what happens after January 20th—in the metrowest area. On Thursday we got an email from the director of the project. I will read it to you:

Dear Rabbi Cheses and team:

Technology support for the refugees is essential to our goals.

As example, a current refugee Dad has been having good success using an app called Duolingo for learning English, and using Google Translate in a pinch for translating and communication at stores, medical appointments, etc.  He's also been using Viber, WhatsApp and Skype for communicating with family and friends overseas.

He is using a smartphone that was unlocked and donated to JFS. JFS will benefit from additional gently used unlocked smart phones that we can reactivate for upcoming families. If you get the phone to us, we can return it to factory settings and make sure all personal data is erased before passing along. The former owner must call the cell provider to "unlock" the phone, though.

If there was a community wide goal of chai, of 18 smart phones from Young Israel of Sharon,  that would be spectacular!

Regards, Marc


There is very little we can do to confront the darkness in Syria right now, but this is something small that we can do to confront the darkness in our midst and to spread a little light. Please join me in this effort by dropping off phones at my office sometime tonight or over the weekend. Sarah and I have few extra around the house that we will contribute.


Lets all pick up our flint stones and make some sparks. I wish you a Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Sameach. 

Sun, December 3 2023 20 Kislev 5784