Saturday, December 26, 2009
In the Beauty of Darkness & Light
The beauty of darkness and the beauty of light come together during this season of light, each accentuating the beauty of the other. Chanukkah candles and Shabbat candles came together twice during this Chanukkah, first night and last night, their glow expanding, brighter yet in the presence of old friend darkness…; shades of Simon and Garfunkle, “Darkness my old friend, I’ve come to walk with you again….”
At an interfaith clergy meeting there was a discussion about light in relation to Advent and Chanukkah, But how do we understand darkness in this season of light? One of the ministers present, a mother of two African American sons, spoke of being sensitive to the subtle message conveyed in common usage of “light and dark.” Whether celebrating Chanukkah or Christmas, it is important to remember that there is neither intrinsic good nor bad in darkness or light. Darkness can be warm and comforting, its presence a time for thought and reflection; or it can be the opaque darkness of sadness and despair. Light can be the glow we feel in the presence of another, the light that guides us on life’s path; or it can be the blinding flash of a bomb or the fire of hate.
On the first Shabbat of Chanukkah, in the lingering glow of the first candle, we also announced the arrival of the new moon. With Rosh Chodesh, the new month begins in a time of darkness. The moon is not visible due to the conjunction of the sun, the moon, and the earth. It is a darkness of hope and possibility, a time of celebration. Like the birth of a child, the emergence of the new crescent of light from the darkness of Heaven’s womb, sings of darkness and light as of pregnancy and birth.
For Shabbat, for Chanukkah, for every festival, we light our candles in that indeterminate time between day and night, when the sky is streaked with dark and light. The rabbis called that time neither day nor night, but beyn arbayim/between the evenings, or beyn hashmashot/between the suns. It is a time of soulful yearning, of wholeness in the presence of two realities joined as one. It is a metaphor for Messianic time, when swords will be turned into plowshares and spears to pruning hooks, as we sing at the end of the Passover Seder, “Draw near the day that is neither day nor night.”
The first word of the Torah portion that welcomed Chanukkah, Parashat Vayeshev (Gen. 37-40), reflects both the tension and its resolution. In one grammatical form, vayeshev means and he settled, as in “dwelled.” In another form, vayiyashev means and he made peace, or “settled” a conflict/yishuv sichsuch. Embraced by the dark warmth of night unfolding, inspired to hope by the delicate dance of flickering candlelight, may our kindling of light be a prayer for harmony in all the places where people dwell, in the beauty of darkness and of light.
Rabbi Victor Reinstein