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Light from the Darkness

by Chana Klein

We are approaching the three weeks, a time of darkness, a difficult time for us as a nation. What is that darkness really about?

Have you ever in your own life felt that things are going so wrong that there is great darkness around you or within you? How did it turn out for you? Was there really something good that came from it? Is darkness all bad?

Let me share with you some stories that might shed some "light" on your own darkness. And may God help.

It was a time of war. A young man was taken captive. They did not kill him right away. They instead gave him a chance to save his own life. One of the captors brought him blindfolded to a deep cave. The captor untied the captive's hands and feet and dropped him down into a deep cave.

"You have four days. You can either find your way out of here and be free or you can to die of starvation."

The young man removed the blindfold and found himself alone in the dark. His mind immediately began racing to figure out a way out of this cave. Looking around, he spotted a slight prickle of light coming in through the curved top.

"If I can get up to that tiny spark of light, I can get out of here," he thought.

The young man tried, first, climbing the walls of the cave in an attempt to reach the light. Then, he tried jumping as high as he could. He, then, searched for something to use to raise him up higher. He piled up rocks, then dirt to get closer to the light. He worked and worked to the point of exhaustion.

At the end of the 4th day in the cave, the young man died.

On the 5th day, the captor came to collect the body. He went to the darkest spot in the cave's bottom corner and pushed aside a large rock, opening and bringing light into the dark cave. The light was to be found in the darkest spot of the deep cave.

The young man had been searching for the answer where he saw some light. He did not even think of the fact that his life could have been saved by going to the darkest spot, the spot that had no apparent light at all.

Had I not fallen, I would not have arisen. Had I not sat in darkness, God would not have been a light for me. (Midrash Socher Tov, Tehillim 5)

Does extreme darkness lead to great light just as in Chinese Medicine extreme yin becomes yang and vice versa. Does our greatness stem from our weakness? Does our goodness come out of our evil?

It is learned that the greater a man's good inclination is, the greater is his evil inclination. Is the source of the good really in the evil? Does one follow the other? Is our own fall the cause of our rise?

I know these are strange questions. There are incidents described in our Torah writings that beg the questions.

The Medrash relates an incident about an individual named Yosef Meshisa . The Romans destroyed the Second Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple) in order to destroy the Jews. But they needed someone who knew the Temple to show them where everything was. Yosef Meshisa, a Jew, was their man. Yosef Meshisa chose to be a traitor to his people and to help the Romans in the destruction of the Jewish nation. In return for showing the Romans around the Temple, they promised him that he could take whatever he wanted from the "spoils" of the Beis HaMikdash.

Yosef Meshisa led the Romans through the Temple and just as they told him to, he chose what he wanted to take for himself. Yosef Meshisa was a Jew who was so in the depths of lowliness, of darkness, that he went in and chose to steal for himself the holiest, the brightest, object there - the Holy, Golden Menorah, a source of light itself. How much darkness must have existed in the soul of Yosef Meshisa to do such an act, to steal the great Light source from the Holy Temple itself!

Even the Romans saw the horror of what he did and told him that it wasn't fitting for a commoner to have such an item as his personal possession. "Go back and take something else -- anything else, just not the Menorah," they told him.

But Yosef Meshisa responded, "I can't go back in."

They tried to convince him. They promised to give him the income from the next three years of tax collection if he went back in. But he refused. "I can't go back in. Is it not enough that I angered my G-d and defiled His Temple one time; I should not have to do it again? I can't do it," He cried.

"What did they do to him? The Romans tortured him until he died. They put him into a carpenter's vise and dragged him around. He cried again and again while being tortured:

"Woe unto me, for I have angered my Creator. Woe unto me, for I have angered my Creator " (Bereishis Rabbah 65:22)

The Ponevezher Rav as given over by Rabbi Frand, asked, "What happened here? What made Yosef Meshisa do Teshuvah? He was apparently a Jew who had no sensitivity whatsoever to Jewish values, and then he turned around and was prepared to die as a martyr. What happened that transformed him from a wicked person to a righteous person?"

I found two explanations for this phenomenon:

The first is by The Ponevezher Rav also given over by Rabbi Frand. The Ponevezher Rav answered that "the very fact that Yosef Meshisa entered into a holy place transformed him. He was exposed to holiness. He went into the Beis HaMikdash for the worst of reasons and with the worst of intentions -- but he walked out a different person. There is something real about holiness and purity, the Rav says. Mere exposure to the presence of the Shechinah [G-d's Divine Presence] can change a person for life."

But is that the whole story?

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz has a different explanation. Rather than the holiness being the cause for transformation, he explains that it was the profound awareness of the darkness surrounding him. Rabbi Shmulevitz explains in his enlightening book, Reb Chaim's Discourses, that darkness caused Hashem to enlighten him and prompted him to defy the Romans saying "enough that I have angered my creator once." He resisted the Roman torture screaming not in pain but in repentance: 'Woe unto me that I have angered my Creator.'"

Rav Shmulevitz says it's clear that "had Yosef Meshisa not sunk so low, he would not have risen to such heights. Had he not been in the blackest darkness, he would never have been able to act in so courageous a manner. It was as a result of his initial lowly feelings that he rose to the heights of martyrdom, a martyrdom compared to that of Rabbi Akiva."

Rav Shmulevitz seems to be saying that because of his own darkness, Yosef Meshisa became enmeshed in light and that had it not been for the darkness, Yosef Meshisa would not have risen to such a high level.

Another story that shows light from the darkness that I learned from my holy teacher and friend Yitzchak Buxbaum is as follows:

The Story of the Two Sisters - Golda and Miriam

It was World War II. Two sisters Golda and Miriam and their brother Shmuel were arrested in their small Polish town. They were sent to Auschwitz. There, the men and the women were in two different parts of the camp which were separated by barbed wire fences.

Golda was able to look over the fence and see her brother, along with the other men, being forced to perform hard slave labor for the Nazis. She worried that he might not survive eating only the sub-minimal rations that the Nazis provided. So each day she threw her own bread ration over the fence to her brother. Her sister Miriam and their friends seeing what she was doing, each took some of their ration and gave it to her so she would have something to eat. This went on for a few weeks.

But Golda began to feel guilty that because she wanted to help her brother, her sister and their friends were deprived of even a small portion of their food. She decided to take a risk. Golda began to stand on the bread line twice each day. This was very dangerous. But everything went well for two weeks.

Until the day - that she came for the second time - to the table where the bread was being allotted. She was standing in front of a husky female German camp guard known as Berta the Brute.

"You filthy Jew! You're a thief! You got on the line a second time. I recognize you, I saw you here earlier!"

Berta then took a fist and slammed it into Golda's face. Blood spurted from Golda's nose. Golda fell down. Berta was kicking her and beating her with a whip.

Miriam and all the other women were watching, terrified.

With every strike, Golda screamed.

Miriam's body broke out in sweat. She was shaking as she watched the horror of her sister being hurt like that.

Then she remembered a story she had heard in the former good days in religious school, about a man who had been sentenced to be executed by the king for breaking into the palace. His best friend, who knew that the charge was false and that he was innocent, confessed to the crime, to save him.

Miriam, who looked somewhat like her sister, jumped in front of Berta and yelled, "Leave her alone! I did it!"

Berta turned away from Golda and looked at Miriam. She began to clobber her with her fists and to whip her.

But then Golda got up and screamed, "No! She's lying. I did it! She's only saying that to save me!"

Once again Berta turned back to Golda. But then Miriam yelled, "No. She's lying!"

Each sister was yelling.

Berta looked from one to the other and back. Her face had a look of confusion. She looked stunned. And then she turned .... and began to walk away.

The women who were nearby watched Berta's face. They all report seeing a tear running down the cheek of Berta the Brute as she walked away from the area.

I ask you: What made it possible for a Nazi brute to turn away from evil? Was it the great evil itself that made it possible for Berta the Brute to shed a tear, a tear that came from her own soul upon seeing the holy love between the two sisters?

Was it the evil itself that ignited something good in her?

Does evil make the good more possible?

Does the darkness enable one to recognize the truth by its contrast with the light?

Is the greatest light found in the greatest darkness?

Though I have fallen, I have also arisen, though I sit in darkness, Hashem is a light for me." Micah 7:8

Sometimes we have to look at our darkness head on.
Sometimes we need to experience the darkness and feel it - in order to get to the great light within us.
Sometimes we have to look into the darkness - to experience the great light of G-d.

What is your darkness revealing to you?

How may your own darkness help you? What can it make possible for you? What light of yours is awaiting you in your own darkness?

May God help.

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