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Rabbi Michael Bernstein

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Face-to-Face With Darkness

Posted: 12/21/2012 12:31 pm

We are all reeling from the devastating news of the horrific shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut that has left 26 people dead and shattered the lives of so many. Knowing that so many who have suffered were very young children sears our hearts and causes our very souls to ache. Words can do no justice and neither can anything else.

Having spent this week celebrating light during this Season of Light, we now are called upon to be face to face with a darkness that also runs deep. We are beset with the lingering fears and heartbreak that will be imprinted by this terror. How can we turn once more to the light?

Our tradition teaches a powerful story about Adam, the first human being's, initial weeks on earth. The world having been created at the opening of the fall, Adam experienced each day as having less light than the one before. As the month of December arrived, the light had dwindled so much that he feared that his own imperfect actions had doomed the world. He ripped his clothes and fasted for eight days, calling out in prayer. When he saw, however, that the days began to lengthen again he realized that such is the way of the world and declared an eight day holiday to light candles and give thanks. This holiday became the blueprint, in the lens of the rabbinic tradition, for many cultures own winter celebrations, including what would become Hanukkah, whose eight days have recently come to an end.

While light is the lasting symbol of meaning, joy, faith and redemption, we are reminded reminded at times that darkness must be given its due and taken into account. A blessing that is recited each morning as part of the classic Jewish liturgy begins with "Who fashions light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates all." But in fact in the original biblical verse on which this line is based the prophet Isaiah states that G-d "fashions light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates evil" G-d the creator of Evil? A very difficult pill to swallow, especially in our own morning prayers. So we understand why the authors of the prayerbook massaged this bold statement into "Creator of All." But then why say the other part? Why not go the whole way and ditch the part where G-d is the Creator of Darkness?

In a way then, the choice to leave in the reference to darkness teaches us that darkness is a necessary part of our world. To say that we do not understand the reason something unfathomable and cruel can happen is not to accept it or take responsibility for it or have to shine the light of faith on it. First, like Adam, there is room for us to feel in the dark, to be lost and broken, to tear our clothes and cry to the heavens. And we also can acknowledge what is dark in our world, face its very real implications and not pretend that all is already illuminated with the light of kindness and goodness, and blessing for which we pray. And then we can strike a match.

We can hold each other closer and not be afraid to be grateful for those we love and those who love us. Dedicate ourselves to lighting more candles through acts of compassion, through vigilance, and through undaunted commitment to making the world safer and less violent. Open our eyes to the unmet challenges of treating mental illness and tackling the toxic mix of guns and violence that has taken hold at the heart of our society. We can make sure to affirm that life is precious even in the face of heartwrenching evidence of its fragility.

May the silence left by the deaths of so many bright and vivacious souls call us to purpose. May the slain be brought under G*d's shelter, the wounded and bereft find strength and healing, and the light triumph despite all.

 
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