Lech Lecha: Light at the End of the Tunnel

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Resonating Lessons from the Chilean Miners

The imagination of millions of people across the globe has been captured by the daring rescue of the 33 men trapped deep in a Chilean copper and gold mine for more than two months. Men and women everywhere are talking about the ordeal, the heroism, the persistence, the near miracle of surviving despite the trying circumstances. Many story lines have been written, and many more to come. Books will be composed, films produced – and of course money made, as the commercial wheels begin to exploit the story. Every human story of such drama and tension grabs our attention and offers us many life lessons.

Yet, I cannot help but wonder whether this particular story may perhaps carry a special type of resonance for all of us. Something touches a deep chord in each of us when we hear how these people were trapped 2300 feet into the earth, and their entire survival was dependent on a rescue diet threaded down to them through a tiny borehole. How Chilean doctors ministered to them through tubes leading almost a half a mile into the earth’s belly!

What is it in this story that rings so true for us? As I was thinking about it, something jogged my memory that I could not quite place. Until this morning. As I was researching and preparing some copy for a particular project I am working on, I came across the opening of the chapter on Redemption in my book Toward A Meaningful Life:

Imagine that you have lived your entire life in a dark tunnel. Your parents and grandparents lived here too, and so did their parents and grandparents. You have grown accustomed to the darkness and developed the necessary skills to survive. You move through life, sometimes staggering in the dark, at other times feeling your way along. You are totally resigned to the fact that that is what life is, and that it will continue to be so.

But you have been told or have read in some ancient books that long ago, your ancestors lived in very different, well-lighted place. You have heard that there is indeed a light at the end of this tunnel, that you don’t necessarily have to spend your entire life in darkness. However, you are skeptical — after all, this darkness is the only life you know. After so many generations have lived in this tunnel, can you really believe some old tale about the possibility of a life on the outside? And besides, you have learned to cope here, to make yourself comfortable in the darkness, so why would you want to risk changing things?

And yet, something inside tells you that the darkness is just not right for your life. No matter how accustomed you have become to it, you still feel restless and insecure. You realize that, although the darkness may be a part of life, it is not life itself.

As we stumble and feel our way along through life, we have all wondered if we will ever find true happiness. Will we ever find peace within ourselves and lead a truly meaningful life, or are we destined to a life fraught with fear and confusion? Will virtue and kindness really prevail? If not, how can we justify to ourselves and our children the need to adhere to moral and ethical principles? After all, even though human nature craves a higher purpose, what is the point of working so hard to live a virtuous life if it is not leading anywhere?

The answer to all these questions is just one word: redemption. Redemption is the light at the end of the tunnel. Redemption is G-d telling us that the reason for which He created the universe will indeed be realized — that goodness will prevail and that our lives can be meaningful. Redemption is both an integral part of G-d’s plan and an integral part of human life. Without redemption, our lives would indeed be meaningless — a never-ending tunnel of darkness, with little awareness of an alternative existence and no hope of ever reaching the light.

I remember vividly the late (or early, depending on your life style) hour when I wrote those lines. It was deep into the night, the time when even the busy streets in New York quiet down. With most of the world asleep, the epiphany of this tunnel metaphor came to me – based on an analogy cited in Chassidic texts – capturing the story of our own lives.

Perhaps this is what is resonating so deeply in the hearts of so many of us captivated by the ordeal and the rescue of these 33 miners: Their story is our story. We all live in a dark mine, and most of the time we are clueless to the fact. We have gotten accustomed to the rituals and routines of our respective “caves” and “tunnels.” Sometimes the darkness is so deep that it conceals the very fact that it is dark. Even cracks of light – the rain from heaven, the blessings of life that nourish us through tubes that come from on high – can be dismissed as simple “nature,” shrugged off as “that’s just the way it is,” without the slightest appreciation of the miracle of existence. That’s how shrouded life can be in the heart of the abyss. Indeed, the mystics use the metaphor of a thin “thread” of light to explain how the light of higher consciousness seeps into our veiled existence, cloaked in the dark mantle of the great “tzimtzum.”

And yet, there are moments when we capture a glimpse of a higher presence than the one we are so accustomed to in our dark tunnels. The key is not dismiss those moments as anomalies, but to recognize that the dark mine is the aberration. By holding on with faith and hope, we too will be “rescued” and finally reunite with the light outside the tunnel.

Maybe this is what is touching so many of us as we witness the miraculous rescue of the 33 Chilean miners in the previously unknown city of Copiapó.

The miners have been rescued and reunited with their families and civilization on Earth. The question is will we on Earth recognize that we too are in need of being rescued and freed from the illusionary traps of our own dark existence? Or will we return to the status quo, convincing ourselves that the only reality is the one on this side of the curtain? Will we realize that there is a higher perspective that look from above at our lives in the “mine” of planet earth, or will we delude ourselves into thinking that the only true perspective is the tunnel vision of own myopic existence?

As you envision the scenes of the miners trapped 2300 feet underground — aided by the visuals, maps, replications and all the other images that will surely fill newspapers, magazines and TV in the coming days — think about your own life: Are you perhaps trapped — not 2300 feet but far more psychologically– in your own emotional quagmires, fears and insecurities? As they survived there for two months, perhaps you too have learned sophisticated coping mechanisms to deal with the harshness of life on earth — not just two months, but a lifetime?

And perhaps, just perhaps, your perceived reality is not your natural space. And just as these miners did not give up hope and did not accept their prison as “natural,” so too, the key for us to discover redemption is recognizing that our present circumstances is not the way it was meant to be; that we are trapped in a tunnel, and we firmly believe that freedom is just minutes away.

Which perspective will you embrace?

The choice is yours.

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Rosenberg
10 years ago

The Lubavitcher Rebbe after Entebbe & after The 6 day war said : certain things are time-sensitive and deserve major publicity. This article can literarly change peoples perspectives and is time-sensitive, it is Hashems shlichus that if you have the means you should have this printed all-over both in the Jewish and secular media.

Shirel Levine
10 years ago

Excellent article and metaphor for our lives. Thank you

Denise Urban
10 years ago

I was thinking the same thing. Our culture is one of death, finally the worlds focus is on redemption of all the miners! it was a joyous occasion around the wired to see their faith and focus. A very happy ending indeed for all.

Chaya Seidman
10 years ago

The choices we make to do mitzvot, and do them properly, are opportunities to reveal the holy sparks of g-dliness in our world. Staying focused on trying to see Hashem in everything and maintaining that in our foremost thoughts is a challenge, especially if you have not grown up frum. It is said that we must see ourselves balanced, and with the mitzva that we are performing, could tip the scales which would usher in the moment of the redemption of Moshiach. I am thankful for your perspective on the rescue of the Chilean miners; it truly is a metaphor for our lives. I find that the promise of Moshiach is imminent and that we must constantly be open to any moment of his coming. Thank you for sharing Rabbi Jacobson!

Lori
10 years ago

Im always so touched by SJs writing. Not a Jewish girl but it doesnt matter. He has a true gift! Hes able to reach everyone with his incredible insight. Caring, wise and accepting. His writing has helped me through a very difficult time in my life. Thank You.

rahmaneh
10 years ago

thank you. i find your words helpful and real. blessings, rahmaneh

Rivkah
10 years ago

Gut Ereve Shabbos and thank you again for another magnificent article.

During the hours that the miners were being rescued, I was awakened from a dream….a message… that this whole incident is the story of the Jewish people.

That narrow tunnel was a type of Mitzrayim…a narrow strait; the cave and the entrapement is our current exile and was our servitude in Egypt as well.
The whole world rallied around the miners, but where was the world to rally around the Jewish people during the holocaust, and even today, we really stand alone as we fervently pray for redemption and for the Moshiach.
One miner stated that it was like being in an oven. I thought again of the holocaust. Another miner commented that he had a choice between G-d and Hell and he choose G-d.
Twelve countries helped to free 34 miners with G-ds help. But the Jews in Egypt only needed the strong hand of Hashem to free millions.

Thank you for your up-lifting perspective.

With Torah Blessings for an illuminated Shabbos,

Rivkah Schneirson

Mushka
10 years ago

Dear Rabbi Jacobson,

Gut Ereve Shabbos and thank you again for another magnificent article.

During the hours that the miners were being rescued, I was awakened from a dream….a message… that this whole incident is the story of the Jewish people.

That narrow tunnel was a type of Mitzrayim…a narrow strait; the cave and the entrapement is our current exile and was our servitude in Egypt as well.
The whole world rallied around the miners, but where was the world to rally around the Jewish people during the holocaust, and even today, we really stand alone as we fervently pray for redemption and for the Moshiach.
One miner stated that it was like being in an oven. I thought again of the holocaust. Another miner commented that he had a choice between G-d and Hell and he choose G-d.
Twelve countries helped to free 34 miners with G-ds help. But the Jews in Egypt only needed the strong hand of Hashem to free millions.

Thank you for your up-lifting perspective.

Brian, Cape Town
10 years ago

Rabbi,I am not Jewish, but am more than interested in your thoughts. Mines, here in SA are plentiful but do you think an attitude as you visualize will occur to the employees,Managemnt?? Thank you Rabbi