Shabbat Greetings

What was it like before the beginning of time? Time did have a beginning, both from the point of view of science and the point of view of religion. What was it like before the beginning? I can only speculate that it was dark. Darkness that ended with the Big Bang from the point of view of science, and with the first words uttered by God in the Torah, “Let there be light.” Evidently darkness was the first thing God wanted to change. Darkness is defined as the absence of light, the very first thing the Torah tells us God created. Although I usually shy away from drawing such parallels, in this case both science and religion may be correct.

The sad fact, my friends, is that we are living in dark times. I feel like it has been for several consecutive years that I have been saying something along the lines that it is good to see the old year come to an end, and expressing hopes for a brighter future in the new year. This year is no exception. While there are exceptions to every generalization, in general there was a lot of darkness in the past year.

As a nation, we experienced so many incidents of mass shootings that I have to wonder if America is still shocked when one occurs.  These are indeed dark days in so many ways. I cannot help but return to something I read recently talking about a popular Israeli song, Yi’hyeh tov, It Will Be Good:

It will be good
It will be good, yes
Sometimes, I am broken

Yi’hyeh tov” is a song in which the singer looks out his window and sees a country with troubles. Nevertheless, he declares -one day it will be good. For the time being however he admits that sometimes – not always – but sometimes – I am broken. Sometimes, he confesses, he is indeed broken on the inside. That’s not a bad description of how I feel after hearing some of the tragic, unnecessary events that happen in our world.

It is then that it is most important to remember our mission in the world, and although it is an important part of our world view to be sure, I am not talking about Tikkun Olam.

Do you know how many times our Bible mentions Tikkun olam? Precisely zero. So this is not an anti-tikkun olam statement, but one that seeks to dig down to the foundation of Tikkun olam. Let’s turn to our Hebrew Bible, to the Book of Isaiah: (42:6)

I, Adonai, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant people
                and a light for the nations.

And then seven chapters later, an even more powerful articulation of this same idea:

I give you for a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.

L’or goyim should fall as trippingly from our tongues as Tikkun olamL’or goyim—a light to the nations. That is our God-given task, my friends. Let us be lights.

None of us have the power to bring light to the entire world, so we do the next best thing. We bring light to our little piece of the world. It only takes a little bit of light to dispel a lot of darkness. This is what we are called to do. Each of us makes the world a better place—for some, not the entirety of the planet—we each make the world a better place because we are in it. God began creation by creating light and banishing darkness. On Friday nights, we do not sit in the dark on Shabbat like the Karaite sect of Judaism, we light a candle in anticipation of the falling darkness. For Yizkor, for yahrtzeits, and of course for Shabbat and holidays, we bring light. And in the winter, in the darkest time of year, we hold a Festival of Lights, chag ha-orim, the holiday of Chanukah. It’s all quite lovely, but by itself, it means nothing.

We must bring light to the darkness not merely by lighting ritual candles, but by being lights and sources of light. Sometimes we can do both at once. There is so much darkness in the world, my friends. This year, go out and be lights. Let us be lights.

L’shanah tovah umetuka – May you be blessed with a sweet and happy new year.