Darkest Before the Dawn

Miketz Shabbos Chanukah 5774-An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

And it came to pass at the end of two full years….  

-Bereshis 41:1

He put an end to darkness…( Iyov 28:3)

-Bereshis Rabbah 79:1

Behold, darkness will cover-up the earth, and the nations will be enveloped in palpably dark clouds; but HaShem will shine His light upon you, and His glory will be revealed through you.

-Yeshayah 60:2

 The Hebrew word ner is commonly mistranslated as “candle”.  In truth, a ner is a lamp that holds the oil and the wick.  In other words, it is the receptacle for the light. While the Torah is the very light itself; mitzvos, our physical, sometimes ritual, acts serve as “the awakening from below” and they evoke the sympathetic vibration of “the awakening from On High” — an outpouring of Torah light that settles into and illuminates these acts. In this way maasei hamitzvos-the acts of fulfilling the commandments, serve as lamps for the Torah’s light.  This is the meaning of the pasuk : “For the commandment is a lamp, and the Torah is light, and reproofs of ethics are the way of life. “(Mishlei 6:23)

The general rule of time-bound mitzvos is that they must be performed during the day. However, there are three mitzvos that are exceptions to this rule and that are meant to be performed at night from within the darkness davka; eating the korban Pesach, matzah and marror, reading the megillah (the nighttime reading is the primary one, the gemara says that it must be “repeated” by day) and ner Chanukah.  Rav Leibeleh Eiger explains that each of these mitzvos is exceptional because they derive from geulos– redemptions.

In each case the geulos in question are introduced in terms of illumination: Just before the redemptive exodus from Egypt the Torah proclaims; “…the children of Israel, however, had light in all the areas where they lived.” (Shemos 10:23) The hidden-miraculous salvation from genocide of Purim resulted in “The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor.” (Esther 8:16). While the geulah of Israel from the cultural-imperialism of the Seleucid Greeks is post-biblical, the mitzvah it engendered is the one that requires the kindling of actual lights.

The root of every geulah is the one appearing at the beginning of our Sidra; the release and redemption of Yoseph Hatzaddik from prison.  This is why the midrash identifies the end of Yoseph Hatzaddik’s prison term with the end of darkness.

Chronologically, there were no rabbinic mitzvos introduced after ner Chanukah.  Rav Leibeleh Eiger points out that, appropriately, the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah is the very last of all the mitzvos. As all the mitzvos serve as lamps illumined with the Torah-light to drive out and vanquish the darkness, there could be no final mitzvah more fitting, no more apt coup de grâce to put darkness out of its misery and bring us out of the misery of darkness, than the mitzvah of ner Chanukah. While other mitzvos do away with darkness metaphorically and metaphysically the mitzvah of ner Chanukah does so physically. Ner Chanukah exemplifies the convergence of mashal and nimshal-symbol — and that which is being symbolized.

It is no accident that Parashas Mikeitz is read almost every year on Shabbos Chanukah. While the redemption of Yoseph Hatzaddik is the root of all light-suffused geulos — the proverbial end of darkness, the geulah of Israel from the domination of the Seleucid Greeks is, to date, the last. Moreover it was this last one that engendered the final mitzvah-lamp that serves as the ultimate paving stone on the bridge that leads to Mashiach and the truly final redemption.

Our sages taught that דלית נהורא אלא ההוא דנפיק מגו חשוכא – “that there is no light other than the light which emerges from within the darkness” (Zohar II Tetzaveh 184A).  Taken to its logical conclusion it follows that the deeper and duskier the darkness is, the more dazzling the light that comes out of it will be.  No galus-exile has been gloomier and obscured by more shadows than our present one.  It has endured and oppressed us for millennia and has so masked any glimmer of hope that it beggars credulity that any light will ever really emerge from it. But, paradoxically, it is precisely because this darkness seems so impenetrable that it is the harbinger of, and guarantees that, the greatest light is yet to come, a light that was hitherto unimaginable.

Unto itself the light of an individual Chanukah menorah is a humble, almost negligible thing.  Yet the synergy of the neros Chanukah in concrete practice of all of Israel collectively, the unification of these metaphorical and, simultaneously, tangible mitzvah-lamps has the power to illuminate our redemption from within the darkness, until Mashiach’s coming.

Adapted from Toras Emes-Chanukah 5630-1870 A.C.E. D”H Ki (pp 56-57)

5 comments on “Darkest Before the Dawn

  1. Just a little bit of light dispels all the darkness! May we stay focused on that spiritual light and stay inspired towards the bigger picture. With emunah & trust, the Geula is unfolding (may the actualization of this be in our lifetimes, G-d Willing). Re: the question on Thanksgiving Day… For me, Thanksgiving Day is much overrated. It will truly be a national holiday when the indigenous people of America fulfill their own purpose. I doubt it’s meant to be from receiving revenues from casinos! Over the last few hundred years Native Americans have been living in exile in their own homeland. Immigrants eat turkey and lavish dinners on Thanksgiving while soup kitchens in many American cities are filled with Native Americans. Still, there is always hope… and our nerot remind us. Chanukah Sameach!

  2. I think it is secular but celebrated by all religions in giving thanks. Thanks for starting a new nation where freedom of religion is prime. Why is there an increase in anti semitism world wide? How do we voice that this is wrong. Or do we hide and hope it will go away.

  3. Is thanksgiving secular? X-tian or the creation of Madison Avenue and the Turkey ranchers?

  4. Very nice.

    As the nations of the world try to dispel the light of Chanukah by merging it with the secular Thanksgiving, one should pause to remember that the entire message of Chanukah is the Havdalah, the separation of the Jew from the Gentile. Only by keeping our unique legacy as the Chosen People will we rise to the top, as oil does when mixed with water.

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