There Any Lights On?
These words were written in the dead of a
dark night in New York, waiting for some electricity to
allow them to be sent over the power lines that connect
us to cyberspace
As the power of the sun weakened on
the 16th of Av, all lights went out for 50 million
people in North Eastern United States.
When it becomes dark outside we have before us
a true study in human nature.
Inevitably we will be hearing about the financial
toll of this blackout, investigations city, state and
federal, independent and no so independent will drag
on for months as to the source of the power failure, fingers
will be pointed, wise politicians will exploit it for their
own glory. No doubt we will hear about new measures
being taken to modernize the power grid. We will be seeing graphs
and maps, analysts and pundits of all size and shape, dissecting
the electrical failure and comparing it to the blackouts of
65 and 77. Surely parallels will be drawn between
9/11 and 8/14 our vulnerability, our overconfidence in
our invincibility, our need to create new defense systems.
All that and more will dominate headlines for
the next weeks. I therefore would like to focus on an entirely
different angle the human, psycho-spiritual drama behind
all these events; not so on the symptoms and their remedies,
but the roots and the commentary they offer on the human condition
Interesting to see what people do when they cannot
rely on their expected source of energy. We have become so dependent
on electricity that people everywhere around me literally had
no idea what to suddenly do after the power was gone.
No TV. No Internet. No clubs. No subways. No lights.
Only thing left are the things we do naturally read,
sing, study, pray (play a crossword puzzle? No that doesnt
I must confess that though my life orbits so much
around books and writing, I was left utterly naked walking the
streets, observing, smiling at the ironies, sitting on the Parkway
bench, concerned for those stuck somewhere, watching the headlights
pierce through the black streets, studying the thousands streaming
down the streets completely amazed at the fact that I
had no inking what I should or would be doing as long as the
electrical appliances and equipment were down. Thats how
dependent we have become on this external energy.
The Talmud tells us that beginning from the 15th
of Av (August 13th this year) the power of
the sun begins to weaken, as the days get shorter and
the nights longer. This is also the reason why this was called
the day of breaking the axe. Because on this day
they ceased using the axe to cut down trees for wood in the
Temple. The wood needed to be as dry as possible. Once the sun
began setting earlier the wood no longer would be at its driest,
hence they would then stop cutting the wood.
Yet, the Talmud continues, these longer nights
provide us the opportunity to study more Torah, because, as
the sages put it, Night was created for nothing else but
study. The solitude and silence of night is conducive
for mental concentration.
This years 16th of Av blackout
teaches us that this night power is much more than just about
the physical nature of night.
The sun represents aggressive, brute power. The
sun is a mammoth source of energy, no object can come close
to the sun without being consumed by its light and heat. The
sun is a colossal oven that warms and illuminates the entire
The moon conversely is soft, receiving light.
Humans are able to come close to the moon, even walk on it.
The moon is not spewing nuclear forces and exploding with bursting
spurts of energy. The moon silently reflects. With no light
of its own it reflects the light of the sun.
We have been well trained to be solar
people. To take charge, to be pushy and aggressive to
be go getters, because, as were programmed,
no one else will take care of you if you dont take care
What we know less of is the art of lunar
energy. The gentle, sensitive power of listening, reflecting,
We know how to give, how to command, how to bark.
But do we know how to receive, how to listen, how to reflect?
And therein lies the mystique of night
the mystique and romance of the moon. You dont see two
people in love staring at the sun. You see them gaze at the
In its reflective repose the haunting moon
casts a glow that is especially conducive to introspection
to listening to the song of your own soul.
People in New York (and I am sure in the other
areas affected by the power failure) are speaking about the
eerie silence around us, about the surreal feeling of the city
with no lights. I wonder which is more eerie: the sound of air
conditioners and subways or the sound of our souls?
We have become so dependent on electricity that
we dont know how to access our own inner electricity,
our own inner juice.
Take away electricity, gas all external
sources of fuel, and what are we left with?
But know this: When some lights go out, others
This years 8/14-Av 16 blackout sure blacked
things out; it certainly broke the axe of the Northeast
the hub of the commercial world. It taught us how utterly
unreliable are our common sources of survival and comfort. How
we are so dependent on physical light and energy, and so awkward
with our own inner light and energy.
I know, I know that some of you will say I am
overreacting: a blackout hasnt happened for over 25 years.
A small price to pay for the convenience of non-stop electricity.
That is all true, but my point is not to knock the benefits
of modern life; just to point out the vulnerabilities we have
acquired as a result of our overdependence on Con Ed for energy
and inevitable underdependence we have developed for our own
Interestingly, it also taught us some thing that
we were not aware of (at least I wasnt): How we are all
connected by these power grids. And as one fails, it ripples
into another and another. If thats the case in a power
failure, how much more so in a power surge. We have the ability
to empower each other, one flame lighting another and yet another.
forever and ever.
Truth be told, the blackout also brought out the
darkest part of human nature. When our energy crutches are pulled
from under us, some of our lurking demons emerge in the night.
After being hidden for so long, even our deeper lunar light
may not have a comfortable resting place when the lights go
But that too is the challenge of night: To extract
the inner juice from within us. To some that may come easier
than others, especially if you have trained and exercised your
Some people in the New York streets were charging
double for drinking water and others were giving it out for
free. Some were breaking windows and looting, while others were
crawling into subway tunnels to help others escape. Some were
yelling and screaming, others were playing music in the streets.
When your inner juice emerges you sing and dance
even in the dark night. You illuminate the blackest streets
with glowing light and intimate warmth.
I know, because just a night before the great
blackout I had the good fortune to personally experience natural
energy. We held a drumming workshop in downtown Manhattan
that surprised me and everyone that participated in its ability
to electrify our spirits. The primal sounds thump,
thump of a group drumming together has this uncanny
effect of bringing out deep primal forces of our soul.
The thumping sounds resonated in the entire room
filling it with a rising tide of energy, reaching a crescendo,
coming back down only to rise again.
They call fuel natural energy because
it comes from beneath the ground. It may be natural
for the earth, but once it gets into humans hands it becomes
a man-made commodity subject to all human failings. Our true
natural energy is the one that we generate from
Your own inner electricity. You own internal juice.
Sometimes we need our external lights to go out
for our inner lights to shine.
Its now 2:10 PM on Friday. Power has come
back to my neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Eerie sounds begins to echo around us
Will it drown out the sound of Shabbat? We shall