Honorable Mensch-ion

Communal Darkness

A few weeks ago, we had a blackout. Our entire street was dark. Yet, looking just across the block, the street lights and houses were lit.

While we sat in darkness, our children sat in fear. They could not see. They listened to sounds that they would not usually hear. Instead of going to their rooms, they fell asleep in our arms in the living room. This moment reminded me of the Rabbis in the Talmud who speak about walking home from the synagogue on Friday night, praying to be protected from the evil spirits. Yet, it also reminded me of the purpose of the Shabbat candles, not to be put in the window as on Chanukah for the world to see, but rather to be placed on the Shabbat table for those sitting together to enjoy oneg, the true joy of Shabbat. While the word loneliness is front and center in a post-pandemic world, Rabbi Basil Herring, writing forty years ago, already identified this problem within the Jewish world. He explains, “People need people.”

The Torah also recognizes loneliness as torture. The 9th plague in Exodus is darkness. The other plagues brought suffering-boils and vermin, but was darkness really torture? While we may think this plague is simply a blackout, it is much more; it is the plague of loneliness. The Torah tells us that no one could see the other for an entire three days.

Rabbi Baruch Epstein of the Torah Temima suggests otherwise. There was plenty of light, but God causes a membrane to cover the people’s eyes. The darkness was not natural. It was spiritual, a darkness within the human being.

Last week, for the first time, we at Sinai Temple visited our brothers and sisters at Faithful Central Bible Church on Sunday morning. Pastor Dr. John Paul Foster told his congregation, “On Friday night, we danced in the aisles at Sinai Temple for Unity Shabbat, and today, we are going to dance again.” He concluded with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” What we witnessed together along with 50 members of Sinai Temple was light and love. It is the antidote to the 9th plague, which we read year after year.

Let us not get stuck in this darkness. Let us look for love, let us light up the world with our faith.

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