After sitting in prison for eight years and eight days, Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin’s sentence was commuted on the last and eighth day of Chanukah this week. As the sun was setting on Zos Chanukah, and the news broke about his release, the Jewish world – people from all communities – exploded in an unprecedented exuberant celebration. Everyone was surprised by this astounding show of unity and joy over the release of one man from prison, a stranger to so many of those celebrating.
Why this extraordinary exhilaration? What chord did it touch in so many different people?
Chanukah – the Holiday of Light –contains the answer, and it is illuminated by the events we read about in this week’s Torah portion.
Light makes us much more aware of the darkness around us. So many sad things happen daily that we cannot help but ask whether we live in a dark, cruel world, which promises little hope for improvement.
“The world breaks everyone,” wrote Ernest Hemingway, “and afterward some are stronger at the broken places.” Was Hemingway right? Does life break all people? And, if so, what hope can we have – if we’re lucky we’ll make it through, and if not, tough luck? Are we just victims of circumstances with no real control of our destiny?
The answer lies in this week’s Torah reading. With a twisted sense of cosmic irony, Joseph’s suffering illuminates for us one of the most powerful messages we will ever hear – that by facing the true nature of our dark existence, we access the deepest form of light.
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 navigate these waves and cycles. We must learn to swim and not fight the waves.
Faith and trust in G-d – as demonstrated by Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin’s unwavering trust – resonates in people’s hearts, and gives us all a sorely needed boost of hope that we can overcome any obstacle.