Light in Darkness: the Elul Eclipse and Parshat Re’eh

Shared with permission from The blog of Rabbi Joshua Rose of Congregation Shaarie Torah in Portland.

All of us will look up in the sky Monday morning for a twice-in-a-lifetime event. The sun will be totally eclipsed by the moon (well, 99% eclipsed for those of us staying in Portland).  What will we see?

Actually, the Torah portion this week begins with the imperative, See (re’eh):

רְאֵ֗ה אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה׃

See, this day I set before you blessing and curse:

Of course, Moshe’s command that we see refers to spiritual vision. The Kedushat Levi draws out the theme. Focusing on the word Hayom, which can be translated as “the day,” he writes,

This should be understood to mean “I place before you spiritual ‘daytime.’” That is, we have before us the radiance of God’s light, which is like “the sun.”  This light appears at times as a blessing and at times as a curse. A blessing for one who walks in the ways of God. And a curse if God’s sustaining energy is transformed by one who does not walk in the ways of God.  The sun’s light affects each person differently.   A person has the capacity to transform the Divine energy to a curse or to a blessing.  (This is a loose translation of Kedushat Levi for Deuteronomy, Rosh HaShanah 10).

At the moment when the moon totally eclipses the sun, are we focused on the light or the dark?  Certainly it is the encroaching darkness that grabs our attention. And yet we have to protect our eyes so we can take in the full magnificence of the eclipse, which includes the intensely radiant light of the sun.

I have heard people repeat the phrase “we live in dark times.”  Indeed, we do. The spasms of hatred shaking the nation, the resurgence of white nationalism and neo-Nazism, torch lit hate parades, a Nazi-driven vehicle terrorizing and brutalizing and murdering. A President who failed utterly to speak with a vitally important clear moral voice. He once again – as he did with former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke – resisted clear condemnation, shucked and jived, reversed himself and hinted.  Yes, in a prepared statement he condemned the KKK. Then he said there were “fine people” in the march where “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and earth” rang out. (A “fine person” would halt such a march, or leave it).  And then he gave comfort to the cause: even as he was being implored to condemn this group, he spoke of the beauty of the monuments they rallied around.

And last night, once again, the horrific violence of an ISIS attack.  A vehicle driven by religious hatred and zealotry caused carnage and terror. Once again bodies litter the streets of an open city.  An evil of pure hatred and violence, anti-western, anti-semitic, anti-zionist, continues to haunt us.

Dark times indeed.

The radiance of God’s light is heavily obscured at times such as these.   It is occluded by the dross of division and hatred by those who celebrate darkness. But the light radiates as hope, as peace, as goodness, it shines eternally as harmony and togetherness, it is a light of incomparable beauty that unifies all creation.  The light becomes further hidden when darkness causes us to surrender to hopelessness, bitterness and despair.

The eclipse is the morning before the start of the month of Elul (which begins at sundown on Monday night).  Elul is the month in which our preparations for teshuvah take on new energy, as it precedes Rosh HaShanah by one month.  This is the time of self accounting and repair, the month of healing and holiness.  As the darkness of the eclipse fades away, the light can once again be seen in its fullness.

Let the month of Elul be for us a time in which we tell ourselves, See (re’eh). We live in times not of darkness, but in times in which we have to summon all of our spiritual energies and efforts to see the light within the apparent darkness. Let our teshuvah guide us on a path in which we can see ourselves more clearly and take responsibility for our actions.  Allow that seeing to set us on a path of healing ourselves and being thereby a source of healing of others.  And may that same path lead us toward seeing the Divine light in the world, with all of its beautiful radiant hope and goodness.  May the coming month be a time in which we learn to use use our hearts and our hands to allow God’s light to shine more clearly that it may heal our world.


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