Roy Neuberger - Sep. 07, 2018
Early this summer, my wife and I flew to Moscow. We left New York in the afternoon. I davened mincha (the afternoon prayer) on the plane and waited for dark so that I could daven maariv (the evening prayer).
Darkness never came; the sun never set!
Our flight path touched the Arctic Circle. The sun sat on the horizon for a long time, but it never went under. This was the “Land of the Midnight Sun!” Eventually, the sun began to rise. I wanted to say that a new day had begun, but is it a new day when there is no night?
“Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who … brings on evenings, with wisdom opens gates, with understanding alters periods, changes the seasons and orders the stars in their heavenly constellations as He wills. He creates day and night, removing light before darkness and darkness before light… Blessed are You, Hashem, Who brings on evenings.” (Evening Prayer)
What is so important about night? Darkness is fear. Darkness is Exile and despair. I remember, as a child, walking alone through a forest at night. I looked all around, imagining threatening shapes moving among the trees. I started running.
“In the evening one lies down weeping, but with dawn … a cry of joy!” (Psalm 30)
Why is night a time of weeping, but morning a time of joy?
“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who forms light and creates darkness … Who illuminates the earth and all who walk upon it …. In His goodness [He] renews daily, perpetually, the work of creation…. How great are Your works….” (Morning Service)
For what reason did Hashem create darkness?
I have a thought: it is vital for us to feel the fear of the night, because this fear arouses us to search for Hashem. Our search for Hashem should not be a theory, but rather a passionate quest arising from the depths of our soul. This summer, one of our grandsons was lost on an outing in a strange forest. He was frightened. He davened fervently, and told his parents that he had never felt so close to Hashem.
I have often written about the moment when I first discovered Hashem. It was around 3 a.m. on January 10, 1966 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was desperately lost, and my soul needed a home. But I had several problems. One was that I didn’t know I had a soul. Another was that I didn’t know where “home” was. My life was falling apart. As it says, “You will grope at noontime as a blind man gropes in the darkness.” (Deuteronomy 28:29)
This is the great darkness. We need to know that we must find Hashem!
I have often had the experience of being unable to understand the answer to an important question. I ask Hashem for help and then go to sleep. In the morning, sometimes a beautiful answer comes to me. Our rabbis tell us that “sleep is a sixtieth part of death,” (Berachos 57b) In death we are in the Heavenly realm. Clearly, during sleep we also have the ability to be in the presence of Hashem.
I do my best writing and learning early in the morning, when the world is quiet and my soul has been refreshed. “Modeh ani lefanecha … I gratefully thank you, Oh living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul ….”
At the beginning of time, “darkness [was] upon the face of the deep.” The first words uttered at Creation were, “Let there be light … and G-d saw that light was good, and G-d separated between the light and the darkness.”
We begin each week by making the distinction between light and darkness.
Night is what impels us, what propels us to seek Hashem, and that is what life is all about. There is a reason for darkness; there is a reason for night; there is a reason for Exile.
On Rosh Hashanah, we are introduced to our Father Abraham, whose life was dedicated to revealing the presence of the Creator in a world that had become dark through idol worship. We read about the birth of Isaac and the Akeida (the “Binding” of Isaac), the event through which our Nation acquired the unique ability to devote ourselves totally to the service of Hashem. The strength from the Akeida has carried us through the millennia and enabled us to withstand the threat of death itself in our service to the King of the Universe. “This section (the Akeida) constitutes the very reason for Israel’s existence in G-d’s eyes. It has therefore become part of our daily prayers and accordingly warrants a more penetrating study than other sections.” (Abarbanel, quoted in the Artscroll Rosh Hashanah Machzor)
“Abraham awoke early in the morning … and went to the place of which G-d had spoken….” (Bereishis 22:3) In the darkness of that world, Abraham found Hashem. At sunrise, he embarked on his mission.
Is there a more hopeful moment than sunrise? “The heavens declare the glory of G-d …. Day following day brings expressions of praise, and night following night bespeaks wisdom…. [The sun] is like a groom coming forth from his bridal chamber, rejoicing like a warrior to run the course….” (Psalm 19)
We stand now at the dawn of the year 5779. “Let the year and its curses conclude! Let the year and its blessings begin!” (Achos Katana) Soon the sun will burst over the horizon. Until that moment, we must use the darkness to search for Hashem. This could be the Year of Redemption.
“My heart is steadfast, Oh G-d. I will sing and make music even with my soul …. I shall awaken the dawn.” (Psalm 108)