There can be no shadow if there is no light – The Rebbe
Let us continue our discussion on the anatomy
In last week’s article, we discussed
that darkness is the inherent nature of existence. Albeit,
not as an end in itself, but in order to bring light, yet
we must recognize this fundamental darkness for us to free
ourselves from its invisible clutches.
Now the question is this: Does darkness have substance,
or is it just the absence of light? There are two opinions
on the matter. Some sages opt for the former and others
for the latter. The mystics go a step further: Darkness
has both dimensions.
In psychological terms: There is a form of darkness that
is merely the absence of light. For instance, when someone
makes a mistake in judgment due to ignorance or inexperience.
The confusion and error is a state of darkness, yet it is
does not have its own substance, it is not necessarily malicious.
Certain information and experience could have illuminated
the situation and not allowed for the error.
Similarly, a child could be deprived of a nurturing parent,
which would cause a level of insecurity, but it mat not
become a force of its own, and with a special measure of
nurturing one can supplement and provide for the proper
nourishment and validation of the child’s identity.
There is however, a level of abuse, which actually creates
a darkness and fear with “a life of its own.”
Not merely an absence of something, that can be supplemented,
but an actual force that now has to be dealt with.
There are people who maliciously cause destruction, not
out of ignorance, but because they may be corrupt or greedy.
Ignorance may have been the initial cause that led them
to that place, but at this point it has become a very real
part of their personality.
What about the primordial Tzimtzum – is it an absence
of light or does it have substance of its own? The answer
is both: The Arizal says that the Tzimtzum means the concealment
of the Divine light (energy), in order to leave “space”
for our independent existence to emerge. Should the light
be revealed, there would no longer be “space”
for anything else. Yet, the Tzimtzum is very real, and it
originates from the Divine power to conceal, the power of
din and gevurah. It’s not merely the absence
of light, but a force of its own (“hein hein gevurosov”).
As Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains in Tanya that the “Tzimtzum”
is called “keilim,” it has substance like a container. The
Tzimtzum is not an absolute void. It contains – like “dark
matter” -- the “letters” of the residue (“reshimu”) within
the “black hole.”
So the Tzimtzum is both absence of light and also has
substance (“dark energy,” the Divine energy
of concealment and darkness, and “dark matter,”
Important to note that either way, both dimension of darkness
are not an end in themselves, but in order to introduce
an even deeper light.
Psychologically speaking, we need to achieve two things
in dispelling the darkness in our own psyches and lives.
First, we must introduce light – true knowledge that
illuminates and beings clarity. We must also bring in love
and compassion, which nurtures the soul, like water that
revitalizes a wilted flower. Second, in the areas where
the darkness has manifested itself to the point where is
has a life of its own (substance), we need to find ways
to channel that “life” (energy) into positive
areas, and ultimately transform it into a force for light.
Like containers or words – we use the actual dark
matter of the material universe to express and channel the
Indeed, we can sat that darkness as absence of light can
never truly be elevated or transformed, because it has no
substance of its own; it is nothing more than the absence
of light, and thus is dispelled by shining a light. Darkness
as substance can actually be redeemed and transformed.
This discussion on light and darkness are not
mere academic exercises, but actually an attempt to dissect
the essential stuff that makes up our very existence. The
story of Genesis tells it to us the way it is: “It
was night and it was day…”
The Earth was first covered in darkness, then there was
light. At first darkness and light were mixed together in
one light/dark snowball. Then G-d divided between them,
and named the light “day” and the darkness “night.”
The cycle of night and day, evening and morning –
repeated in Genesis on each day of the week – is the
cycle of life.
We must learn about this cycle, assimilate it and align
every aspect of our daily lives with this rhythm. This is
called learning how to swim. To navigate the waves of our
lives we must learn to recognize their cycles.
Have you ever tried to swim against the waves? When you
do, your energy gets drained faster than your flailing arms.
If you keep fighting, the waves can bring you down. But
when you swim with the waves and allow them to carry you,
their energy propels you forward, like the air that lifts
the flapping wings of a bird.
Well, when it comes to our everyday life we always seem
to be fighting the waves. That may be the reason so many
of us are exhausted and overcome by fatigue.
Two primary reasons are the cause for this futile and
weary battle. One, we are not aware or familiar with the
cycles of life. They are like unexpected waves that catch
us by surprise, and by the time we are struck by them it
is often too late to begin swimming. Second, human nature
gravitates toward the comfortable and the static. We are
therefore averse to always swimming the waves. We just want
to be left alone in peace.
For this reason we read and reread the Biblical story of
the descent into Egypt followed by the ascent from there.
The cycle of darkness and light manifests itself in real
time as Jacob and his sons descend into the constraints
of Egypt/Mitzrayim. First comes the darkness: Joseph’s
being sold into slavery and ending up in prison in Egypt.
Then comes the light: Joseph’s ascent to leadership,
and finally his reconciliation with his family, their descent
into Egypt, where they live in the finest part of the land.
Indeed, Jacob’s last seventeen years in Egypt were
his best years. After Jacob and his sons’ deaths,
comes the serious darkness: The Egyptian bondage and genocide
that would last for a bitter 210 years. Finally, comes the
light of the redemption from Egypt, which gives birth to
the great Jewish nation, who then proceed to receive the
Divine mandate at Sinai.
The darkness of Mitzrayim decelerated from absence of
light to a true and real state of substantial darkness [As
reflected in the ninth plague -- darkness with substance].
The redemption from Egypt was not just about eliminating
the absence of justice, but also leaving the land enriched
and more than before – “with great wealth,”
as promised to Abraham.
The Biblical account of Jacob and his family’s
the descent into Egypt (in these week’s chapters)
is essentially the story of our own lives. Life is all about
descents and ascents. Beginning from the descent of the
soul into this material world, we will go though many more
descents. Some are an absence of light, some a darkness
of substance. Yet, every descent has a corresponding ascent.
Indeed, the purpose of the descent is to reach a place higher
than the one that preceded the descent.
As our sages tell us: “There is a wheel that turns
in the world.” Life
is like a wheel. The wheel of life turns up and down
throughout the experiences of life. Human nature is such
that when we on the top of the wheel, we are in good spirits.
But in truth only a fool feels content, for the wheel of
life is constantly turning. One who is on the bottom of
the wheel and cries about his plight is also a fool, for
he too is on the turning wheel.
The mystery of life is not about achieving nirvana; it
is about navigating the vicissitudes.
Light and dark, day and night, joy and pain, ups and downs
– this is the nature of existence. Life is all about
cycles that orbit a broad spectrum spanning from the brightest
light to the darkest gloom, and back again.
Life is not static. As much as we would like to just stop
moving, the fact remains that the time and space we occupy
is always moving, no less than the spinning earth beneath
our feet. The secret to success in this world is to make
our peace with the cycles of light and dark in our lives
and in the world around us. We must learn to swim and not
fight the waves.
Two words describe the basic structure of existence: Light
and dark. Master these two words, search for them in all
your experiences – recognize the waves, and they will
become your friends instead of unknown, unexpected forces
that flood our lives.
It may appear like we are living in as tunnel, and we
await the light at the end of tunnel. But in truth that
is not the case. We are not living in a tunnel; we are living
inside a wave, inside a wheel, if you wish. A spinning wheel
that may appear motionless on the surface, but is actually
turning all the time. The wheel is made up of darkness and
We have two choices: Resist the movement, or ride the
Do not be deceived by the fact that you may not see the
wheel turning upward. Because like a spiral staircase (“shvindel
trep” in Yiddish), we turn our backs to the destination
just before we reach its peak.
May we all be blessed with the smallest and shortest downturns
and the longest and greatest upturns – revealed and
obvious blessings of health, prosperity and peace.