Tents Protest in Tel_Aviv 25.7.2011 | cc: wikipedia
By Rabbi Kobi Weiss
The prophetic great light of the end of days is kept for those who succeed in finding light in the darkness of our existence, in the miserable protest tents, in the periphery, among the weak and vulnerable, where there is no light, and for those who do not give up on light in spite of the darkness and continue to look for it, like the cockerel.
I would like to present our parasha via the Haftara. The Haftara this week is the sixth of the “Seven Haftorahs of Consolation.” The Haftara’s subject is consolation and encouragement for the people of Israel after the destruction of the Temple.
The central motif of the Haftara is light: “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, And the glory of the Lordis risen upon thee. For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, And gross darkness the peoples; But upon thee the Lord Will arise, And His glory shall be seen upon thee. And nations shall walk at thy light, And kings at the brightness of thy rising” (Isaiah, LX,1-3).
Redemption and resurrection are described as a great light that will shine on the people of Israel and all peoples will walk to the light. At the end of the Haftara, also, the motif returns: “The sun shall be no more thy light by day, Neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; But the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, And thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down, Neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; For The Lord shall be thine everlasting light, And the days of thy mourning shall be ended” (ibid., 19-20).
These verses correspond well with the verses in our parasha which talk about the people of Israelis a special people whose role is:
“And the Lord hath avouched thee this day to be His own treasure, as He hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all His commandments; and to make thee high above all nations that He hath made, in praise, and in name, and in glory; and that thou mayest be a holy people unto the Lord Thy God, as He hath spoken” (Deuteronomy, XXVI, 18-19).
The Light of Leadership
The supremacy of the people of Israel is expressed in leadership and spiritual guidance which is symbolized by light.
To a certain extent, this special situation of the end of days reminds us of the situation of the children of Israel in the desert before they entered the land of Israel, as is also described in our parasha:
“And I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot” (ibid. XXIX, 4). The children of Israel in the desert followed the light of the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud. Now, at the end of days, God’s light will be inside the people of Israel and they will be a pillar of fire for the world.
However, in the Sages we find an interesting reference to the Haftara and to the symbol of light: Peoples of the world who did not receive the Torah which was given in darkness, to them He said: “Darkness will cover the earth.” But Israel, which received the Torah which was given in darkness, as it is written: “You heard the voice in the darkness,” to them He said: “God will shine His light on you and you will see His glory” (Veyikra Raba, 9).
The Midrash turns our attention to the Torah being given in darkness. The beautiful descriptions of the Haftara are not the reality we live in, but the opposite. In the basic situation before the destruction and before the dramatic redemption, the darkness was the proper platform for the Torah. The words of the Midrash remind one of the famous poem of “Slichot”:
You came to me and opened my eyes
Your body like a look and a window and a mirror
You came as night comes to the eagle owl
To show it everything in the darkness
Actually darkness taught the speaker everything. Is it this she asks forgiveness (slicha) for?
Another Midrash clarifies this:
Rabbi Smlai taught: What is written was desired in the day of God. Why do you need the day of God, it was a day of darkness with no light. Like a cockerel and a bat waiting for light, the cockerel said to the bat, I am waiting for light because it is my light , why are you waiting for light? (Sanhedrin 98:72).
According to this fable, the people of Israel are the cockerel, while the bat has taught itself to manage in darkness.
Does this Midrash not contradict the previous Midrash where it is specifically said that the Torah was given in darkness.
It seems that the central idea of light and darkness and their meaning also lies in this week’s parasha. In the middle of the description of curses we find the verse:
“The Lord will smite thee with madness, and with blindness, and with astonishment of heart. And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not make thy ways prosperous” (Deuteronomy, XXVII, 28-29).
The Torah Exists in the Darkness
The light and darkness in the verse are internal, not external. Someone who has “astonishment of heart” cannot find his way even at noon. And he who is calm at heart can see everything even in the dark.
The prophetic great light of the end of days is kept for those who succeed in finding light in the darkness of our existence, and who do not give up on light in spite of the darkness and continue to look for it, like the cockerel.
Performance of the mitzvoth, especially those between men, are not always glorious. The creation of a chosen people, as we at the Rabbis for Human Rights understand it, comes about by means of the creation of an exemplary society which is a model for all peoples – all those sometimes living in great darkness. The daily struggle for human rights is not simple, it requires “getting one’s hands dirty,” dealing with the lowest situations of human existence, there is no glory and praise there, there is not the aesthetics and beauty of studying and debate in the Beit Midrash.
Yet the real Torah was given in darkness. Someone who understands this, who does not give up on darkness claiming that the rabbi’s job is not there, and thinks that the role of the rabbi is just dressing respectably, teaching “Kol Nidre”, is missing the deep meaning of a chosen people.
The human Torah, the Torah of this world, is in darkness, in the miserable protest tents, in the periphery, among the weak and vulnerable, where there is no light. The job of the leader is not to despair and to find the Torah there.
Redemption, in its meaning of the discovery of God, will bring light and will discover the glow in these activities for the future to come, although until then we need to believe in the hidden light and not miss it, not give up on dark places owing to the need to see, as the bat did. He who believes that, even though he gropes his way at noon, the light is there, will succeed in seeing the people of Israel leading all the world, in fulfillment of the verse “And nations shall walk at thy light And kings at the brightness of thy rising” (Isaiah, LX, 3).
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