I love my home. I love the art, the plants, the books, even the furniture. Everything in it tells me a story.
I love when sunlight streams through the windows, especially in winter afternoons, when I know the light will go as quickly as it came. And when evening comes I turn on lights and go about my day, as if it is still day.
But there are times when darkness comes unexpectedly, despite the sunlight, despite the pleasant surroundings, despite myself. It is a different darkness, an unwelcome, unbidden darkness that emanates from within.
Can you touch darkness? The Torah tells of a darkness that could be felt, that paralyzed the Egyptians, a darkness that preceded – and perhaps heralded – the final of the ten plagues, the plague of death.
The plague of darkness lasted for three days, during which the afflicted Egyptians could not see each other, could not even move. Robert Alter says that the ninth plague brought “the claustrophobic palpability of absolute darkness.” And yet, says our sacred text, the Children of Israel had light in their homes.
Two communities, living side by side. One experiences paralyzing, isolating darkness. The other knows there is darkness outside, but their homes are lit from within.
I know that paralysis, that isolation. And I also know what it is to feel the light from within, a light that does not flicker, that brings warmth and comfort, a light that opens the doors of possibility and hope.
There is communal darkness and there is personal darkness. From biblical times to today, the Jewish people have been exposed, time and again, to the prospect of communal darkness. It is astonishing that it did not destroy us. Surely, many people did succumb to the anguish of pogroms and persecution, expulsion and attempted extermination. How could they not?
And yet there remains a spark of light, of hope, of courage, of determination. My people are here today despite the external forces of darkness, despite the internal moments of despair. Against all odds, we have chosen to be light-bringers, to assign ourselves the task of being a light unto the nations. May our light continue to shine.