From Darkness to Radiance – Shabbat Inspiration on September 4, 2015 by

Rabbi Yocheved Mintz, Congregation P’nai Tikvah

 Kol ha-olam kulo, gesher tzar m’od…the whole world is a narrow bridge, the ancient teaching and classic Hebrew folk song tells. V’ha-ikar, and the important thing is …lo l’facheid k’lal:  Not to fear, at all.  But, who among us can say we can walk through this world without fear?!

There’s so much in the news that is frightening and worrisome.  The upheaval in the MidEast and Africa; its repercussions throughout the Mediterranean, Western Europe and even into Scandinavia.  The yet-to-be-determined ramifications of the flawed “Iran Plan.” The economic uncertainty in China, resulting in the precipitous plunge in  our stock market.  Illness or death of family or friends.  Gun control, or more accurately, lack of gun control…Hunger, homelessness, racism, bigotry, the trampling of human rights, the denigration of human dignity, trafficking of young men and women….terrorism… G’valt!  And with all that’s going on in the world piled on top of all the pushes and pulls of our busy day-to-day schedules, we’re supposed to be able to do the important introspective work of the Days of Awe?!

How can we concentrate on preparing for the work of Teshuvah, return/repentance without surrendering to feelings of fear or hopelessness?

My colleague, Rabbi Dale Schreiber defines “fear” as an idol that comes uninvited, takes up residence, and drives the decision making.  I have that little quote taped to the shelf above my computer, along with a number of other words to live by.  It reminds me, when I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach, to emotionally hang out the “disinvite” sign and not let fear in the door, let alone take up residence.

But with all that’s going on in the world, you might protest, what’s the point of taking cheshbon ha-nefesh, accounting of our own souls? What does it really do in the big, uncertain, scary scheme of things?

Another colleague, Rabbi Ken Chasen, reminded me of a story found in the Jerusalem Talmud: “The Jews approached the prophet Isaiah in a time of great darkness, asking, “Our master Isaiah, what will come for us out of this night?” Isaiah replied, “Wait until I ask.” After seeking an answer from God, Isaiah returned to them: “God said, ‘The morning comes, and also the night.’ There will be morning for the righteous, and night for the sinful.” They demanded to know when. Isaiah replied, “When you wish it, God will wish it. If you desire it, so, too, will God.” Exasperated, the people asked, “So what stands in the way?” Isaiah responded, “Your lack of repentance. Return…come…”

What does this mean?  Well, if the prophet is right, all is not lost, no matter how dark the night may seem and how scary the events of the world may appear. Our words and deeds of repentance will, hopefully, fill the coming High Holy Days with a potentially transformative power on us—both through our prayer and through our actions. Simply put, change starts with us.  By reshaping ourselves, we chip away at the massive task of reshaping humanity and the world that is in our care. But it would be naïve to think that our prayers and reflections throughout this season of the Yamim HaNoraim, the Days of Awe, are enough; yet, if this soul-work  mobilizes us to take action to affect change in ourselves and in the world, then there is hope that humankind as a whole may eventually be capable of moving permanently from darkness into light, one act of justice at a time.

Actually, opening ourselves to the traditions of Judaism as we approach the New Year can help us avoid the pitfalls of fear and hopelessness.  Think about it:

At this time of year, our tradition has us wish one another a “Shanah Tovah,” –a good year.  Not the “Happy New Year” of the secular New Year’s greeting, Not accenting the pursuit of pleasure, but emphasizing the thought that life’s central quest is for goodness, for righteousness, for justice.

Even the way our tradition has us observe the Yomim HaNoraim is helpful.  We are told to cease doing business, to not go to school, on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur….why? The answer is in the world of difference that there is between a holiday and a holy day.

As Rabbi Sidney Greenberg writes: [1]

“On holidays we run away from duties.

On holy days, we face up to them.

On holidays we seek to let ourselves go.

On holy days we try to bring ourselves under control.

On holidays we try to empty our minds.

On holy days, we attempt to replenish our spirits.

On holidays, we reach out for the things we want.

On holy days, we reach up for the things we need.

Holidays bring a change of scene.

Holy days bring a change of heart.”

The sages in the Talmud knew that the Days of Awe can help us achieve this, so let’s not allow ourselves to be stopped in our steps by the headlines in the papers. Let us truly rededicate ourselves to the soul-baring work of repentance as we welcome the year 5776—not just for our own self-improvement, but for the possibility that our personal growth will leave a positive imprint upon this world, so filled with chaos right now. This year, let us envision that humanity’s fate directly depends upon our being honest about ourselves, this year, more than ever. If we begin by transcending the darkness that resides deeply within us, perhaps we’ll succeed in illuminating the darkness that resides deeply around us.

May our introspection, our soul-accounting, our inner work, as we approach the new year of 5776, replace the shadows of uncertainty, fear, and hopelessness with the radiance of determination, courage, and hope.  Ken y’hi ratzon.  So may it be G-d’s will.


L’Shanah Tovah tikateivu…May you be inscribed for a very good year… Shabbat Shalom..

[1] “Days of Trepidation” by Rabbi Sidney Greenberg, in Moments of Transcendence, Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, ed. Aronson Press, 1992, Northvale, New Jersey, p. 37.