Being Tested

Did you see the majestic phenomenon of the solar eclipse last week?

One friend from Oregon wrote:

The most unforgettable moment was—after about two minutes of experiencing the totality—when the light of the sun, like a sparkling facet of a diamond, began peeking out from the edge…It symbolized for me that in the deepest throes of darkness the light is born." [1]

His sentiment comes right out of Kabbalah: the notion that light is born out of chaos and darkness. The 13th century Zohar says: For there is no light except that which issues from darkness… and there is no good except that which issues from evil.[2]

There is a lot of darkness in the world right now: fear, insecurity, hopelessness. How do we go about bringing light out of so much dark? I believe the Zohar is telling us that spiritual light comes not from avoiding, but from facing into the darkness. That true goodness comes not from untested innocence but from facing and wrestling with our darkest parts.

There have been many other solar eclipses in our lifetimes. But how amazing that the eclipse occurred here in the heartland of our country, at precisely this time in our US history!

Just one week earlier we were confronted with the frightful visuals of White Nationalists marching with torches, riot gear, and swastikas in the streets of Charlottesville. The visible rise of their movement and a new upsurge of anti-Semitism are undeniable (up 86% in the first quarter of 2017, compared to the same period last year.[3]) And though most of us were not alive in the1930's, the footage triggers "cellular memories" of a time when such horrors were widespread, the prelude to the Shoah.

But if the Jewish mystical tradition is grounded in metaphysical principles, then perhaps we can find strength in this moment of history when darkness is emerging in full view; and hope that every sincere effort we make to bring about light adds up to tip the balance toward the wholeness, the oneness, made of light and darkness.

The Polish Nobel Prize-winning poet, Wislawa Szymborska, once described a normal woman she had watched on the street, caught up in her daily cares, until seeing a burning building, she ran headlong into it to save children who were not her own. Szymborska wrote We know ourselves, only insofar as we have been tested.”

My friends, we are being tested now. As Americans, as Jews, as human beings. This is no longer a political debate. It is a moral one. We do not have to feel paralyzed. We DO need to step up, each in our own way.

I used to think it was historical trauma that made Jews see anti-Semitism everywhere we looked. Charlottesville changed all that. Watching the torch-carrying men spewing their hatred, I had a visceral knowing that I have been here before. It must not happen again. It is time to lean into the darkness and birth some light.

[1] Thanks to Paul Levy

[2] Zohar II:183b-187b

[3] From recent ADL statistics