Thursday, February 14, 2008

Beating the darkness

It’s a warm, quiet Friday evening. We have a table full of guests. The younger children are in bed. The relaxing atmosphere of Shabbos permeates the house as we prepare for Kiddush. Everyone feels uplifted as we begin to sing Shalom Aleichem…

The lights go out.

There are a few uneasy giggles and a wry comment about living in “Darkest Africa”. Thankfully, the children are reassured by the emergency light in their bedroom. Shabbos dinner turns into an intimate, candle-lit affair.

It’s unnerving to be plunged unexpectedly into darkness. It’s worrying not to know how power-cuts will harm your business and interfere with running a normal household. It’s concerning to speculate about what the future holds in this country.

We all seem to be living in the dark these days, an ominous sense of foreboding seeping through the community.

As we shop for candles, camping lights, gas or generators, wouldn’t it be useful to discover a product to boost optimism?

One glance at this week’s Torah portion provides one answer. Towards the beginning of the Parsha, we’ll read about how they lit the Menorah in the Sanctuary. Only the best fuel would do for this Divine light-source that would illuminate the entire world. The Torah calls for “Shemen Zayis Zach, kasis lamaor- Pure olive oil, crushed for lighting” to use in the Menorah.

Ostensibly, the Torah simply describes the fuel for the Menorah- pure olive oil. On a deeper level, Torah alludes to the secret of how to handle tough times.

The Jewish nation is compared to olives. Normal people collapse under pressure, succumb to adversity. Ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and many others rallied when times were good, only to overrun when the tide turned against them. The secret of the Jew has always been that hard times bring out the best in us. “Kasis Lamaor”- when the olive is crushed, it can begin to shed light.

Judaism is a religion of courage and immense faith. We look to emulate the example of our founding father, Abraham, who stood up to the entire world and didn’t cower when they threatened him. We are empowered with a natural sense that G-d is in control, at all times and in all places (as rough as things may be, we have it on good authority that He hasn’t emigrated yet).

Ironically, in the good times, we sometimes forget about the fundamentals. As the pressure mounts, a Jew’s true potential surfaces.

We rally; we generate optimism because we know that G-d is in charge and has our interests at heart. We shine a light when the world goes dark. And G-d responds in kind, just as he did for the Jews of Persia at the time of Purim.

May we all be blessed with the light of the Menorah and the blessing of the Megillah: “And for the Jews there was light, joy, rejoicing and glory”.

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