Five years ago right now (my portion was Bo) I became a bat mitzvah. Kind of in a born again way. It’s been decades since I was thirteen, so officially I became a bat mitzvah in the seventies, but I learned the Hebrew, wrote a drash, went up on the bimah, and got my very own sisterhood kiddush cup five years ago. So today I’m going to cheat just a little and post the drash that I wrote five years ago. I’m quite certain that I’ll have more to say though, so stay tuned….the whole thinking around freedom and belief is so intriguing, just sets me all a tingling….hope you like this. It made me cry (everything makes me cry).
On my refrigerator is an ugly little bedraggled piece of paper. The edges are torn and the paper has faded to a very unattractive yellow. It’s been on my refrigerator, and several prior refrigerators for about 15 years. This ugly little piece of paper has received much comment over the years, and has given me comfort on more occasions than I can count. It says:
When you have come to the edge
of all the light you know,
and are about to step off
into the darkness of the unknown,
faith is knowing
one of two things will happen:
There will be something solid to stand on
Or you will be taught how to fly.
Darkness is every child’s earliest fear. And as parents, it is our job to teach our children not to fear the darkness, the unknown. But so many adults fear darkness. Where does the fear lie? In the lack of control, the lack of power? The ninth plague visited by God on the Egyptians was to create darkness in the land, “a darkness that can be touched”. In Genesis 1:3, God’s first act was to create light. In Genesis 1:4, “God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.” So, in God’s act against Pharoah and the Egyptians, God took away his first greatest gift. Like the mother who says to her mis-behaving child, “I gave you life and I can take it away”. Yet the Jews still had light in their dwellings. They had faith. After 400 years of enslavement by the Egyptians, they still had their faith. But what about the Jews who did not have faith? Were there none? According to Rashi, nearly 80% of the Jews enslaved in Egypt chose to remain enslaved. They did not want to leave Egypt, and slavery, into the unknown. Perhaps these Jews didn’t have faith. Rashi suggests that, during the 3day plague of darkness, these Jews died and were buried. The Egyptians were not aware of these deaths. Otherwise they might have ignored the impact of the plague, noting that it was happening also to the Jews.
Today, too, there are Jews, and others, who do not have faith. And not merely religious faith. But faith in themselves, in their fellow man, in a greater good. How do these people teach their children not to fear the darkness? God does not want us to fear darkness; God wants us to look up, to have faith. In Genesis, God tells Abraham several times to look up, to look toward heaven. To see. If Abraham had not heeded God’s words, he would not have seen the land God promised him. If Abraham had not heeded God’s words, he would not have known that his wife, Sarah would finally have children. If Abraham had not heeded God’s words, he would not have known to prepare his favored son Isaac for sacrifice to God. Most importantly, if Abraham had not heeded God’s words he would not have known that preparing Isaac for sacrifice was God’s test of his love. Abraham would not have heard the angels telling him not to sacrifice Isaac. He would not have looked up and seen the ram that God provided instead for the burnt offering.
God gave us free will. God wants us to make choices, hopefully good and righteous choices. But how often do we make the choice to live in darkness? Why would we want to choose darkness? Think about this. When you’re driving, do you always slow down to let the person next to you, whose blinker has been on for 3 miles, move into your lane? If you’re waiting in line at the supermarket with a huge cart full of groceries, and someone walks up behind you with a carton of milk, do you pretend not to notice so you won’t feel obligated to let them go ahead of you? What do we gain by this chosen blindness?
Nearly ten years ago, when I was nearly 6 months pregnant with my oldest child, my daughter Emily, I lived in San Francisco. With a broken down car in the shop, I had to take the bus to work. I waddled onto a commuter bus, nearly 40 pounds overweight. The bus was crowded, so I moved into the aisle and stood, stomach at attention, next to a man sitting down reading the paper. That man’s eyes were glued to his newspaper. He was not going to look up no matter what happened, because that might require him to see, and be seen seeing, that I was standing there with my still innie belly button nearly resting on his nose. We rode all the way downtown this way. The next morning, when I got on the same bus, now at least 41 pounds overweight, at least 3 people jumped out of their seats to give one up to me. They had seen me the day before, standing on my swollen ankles, from 27th Avenue all the way down to Kearny Street. I had seen their scowls directed at the man with the newspaper. I gratefully made my way to one of these kind souls and sat. The man with the newspaper was nowhere to be seen. What had his blindness, his chosen darkness, gained him?
What does darkness, or not seeing, gain any of us? It isolates us, it removes community. We gain nothing, except perhaps the illusion that our needs are the most important needs and should be met first. As a result, we become lonely slaves to our self-created darkness. God doesn’t want us to choose darkness. Like the Jews of Moses’ time, God wants us to have light in our dwellings. The choice to have faith in ourselves, in people, in God, belongs to each of us. That faith is our light. When we slow down to let the bedraggled driver next to us into our lane, he smiles a thank you. When we step aside to allow the mother with the crying baby to pay for her groceries ahead of us, she thanks us apologetically. When we give up a seat on the bus for the elderly person with the cane, perhaps our action isn’t even noticed. It doesn’t matter. Each of us has the power to shine a little light into the life of another. And no matter what, that light is reflected back to us. It is the nature of light. It is the nature of faith.