Through the Dark

Parash Pinchas 5780

A couple of weeks ago, I had the incredible privilege to drive up North with my husband and very close friends to visit kivrei Tzadikim here in our magnificent and Holy Land.  There are many that dot the hillsides and even line the roads up there.  You can literally follow the timeline of Tanach and the periods of the Batei HaMikdash, encountering and connecting to these ancient souls and how they contributed to the character of Am Yisrael by stopping and spending a few minutes (or hours!) at these kevarim.  I invite and encourage anyone who can to take advantage of this incredibly enriching opportunity.

We went on a mission- to daven.  To daven for ourselves, our children, for our friends and their children, for our kehillah, for our extended families, for Am Yisrael and for the whole world.  To search for the light in the darkness.  

One of the tzadikim that we were able to stop at was Rabbeinu Bachaye ben Asher, who lived in Spain in the 13th-14th Centuries and wrote, among other things, a commentary on Chumash.  The cave where he and his talmidim are buried is right off of the highway and marked by a small blue dome.  At midnight last Thursday night, it was an oasis of peace, calm, and introspection.  

Rabbeinu Bachaye spoke about darkness.  He comments, in Parshas Behaaloscha, that “In order to understand the phenomenon of creating light out of darkness, consider …that the human eye has a white surface surrounding a black pupil. Contrary to what you might expect we do not see with the white of the eye but with the black part.”   Darkness is a fact of life.  There are times, situations, places and relationships that seem to breed darkness.  Each one of us also has darkness inside of us, places in our soul that we try to run from or to cover up.  But Rabbeinu Bachaye is explaining to us that the only way light can come in is, davka, through the darkness.  The dark places in our soul are actually the openings to let the light in.  

For me, this is a life-changing idea.  Every single one of us has fears and negative thoughts that play in our heads.  “I am not good enough, smart enough, brave enough, talented enough,” and so on.  There are things that I avoid doing because they seem beyond my abilities.  There are things that I have to do and then afterwards I replay how I did them, sometimes falling down into a spiral of self-critique and doubt.  And yet, through Rabbeinu Bachaye’s Torah, I can try to see these darknesses inside of me as pathways to allowing in the light.

The Torah tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu had a hard time speaking.  When Hashem told him that he would be the one to go to Egypt, to speak with Pharaoh, to lead Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim he tried to argue that he was not the right man for the job.  He said, “Please, O L-rd, I have never been a man of words…I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Shemos 4:10)

Why was this the person that Hashem sent to lead Am Yisrael if he couldn’t speak properly?

In some ways, it was specifically because Moshe Rabbeinu could not speak that he was sent.  He is an example for all time of a person who did not think that he was capable of achieving something- and then doing it anyway.  Someone who didn’t seem to have the required skill-set for the job that he was being asked to do.  He reached deep within himself and …did it.  How?  Because Hashem answered him: “Who gives man speech? …Is it not I, the LORD? Now go, and I will be with you in your mouth….” (Shemos 4:11-12)  Hashem promised Moshe Rabbeinu that He would be there, that He would give Moshe the words, that He would, in some ways, be Moshe’s mouth.  The fact, then, that Moshe Rabbeinu was not a professional speaker became the opening through which Hashem’s mission was fulfilled.  He had no style of his own, he had no agenda of his own and, through his humility (bittul), he became the vessel through which Hashem’s words came into the world.  

How many times have each one of us said to ourselves “I can’t.”?  How many times have we considered a job, project, phone call, relationship or mission beyond our reach? And yet, with this prototype, I can see that it might just be the things that I struggle with the hardest that are actually my special jobs in this world.  And, just like Hashem was with Moshe and would “be his mouth,” He is with me in my struggle.  In fact, He is also the struggle itself.  

The Torah tells us that when Moshe Rabbeinu did go to speak to Bnei Yisrael, they couldn’t hear him because of “kotzer ruach”- shortness of breath.  Rebbe Nachman teaches that “kotzer ruach” means a lack of faith.  Not necessarily a lack of faith in Hashem, but a lack of faith in themselves.  They didn’t think themselves capable of change.

When I learned this piece by Rebbe Nachman, my breath was literally taken away.  I have asthma- which is a physical shortness of breath- but fits in painfully well with Rebbe Nachman’s description of someone who has a lack of faith in themselves.  

So why am I writing divrei Torah about trying to grow and be connected if I have such a hard time believing in myself?  Maybe that is why Hashem gave me this combination of character traits?  Maybe through speaking about all of these fears and dark places I can shine a light for myself and others?  Maybe, like Rabbeinu Bachaye said, the pathways of light are through the dark places.  

But I have to get out of the way.  I have to try to emulate Moshe Rabbeinu and empty myself of the idea that what I have to do is about me.  The more I “let go and let G-d,” the more of Him that is able to be with me, the more my life will be about the mission and the less it will be about what I or other people think about the vessel. 

I pray that Hashem gives me the strength to continue this journey, that He continue to lead me to the people and places that drive me forward towards being the person that He wants me to be.

I bless each and every one of us to have the courage to face our dark places and to see in them the possibility for personal growth, and to be able to see the challenges that He places in our paths as catalysts for that growth. I bless us to see ourselves through the lens of Hashem’s love and to access the hidden strengths that He has given us in a way that brings more light into the world.

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