Darkness. Water. Light.
The parallels between the openings of the first two books of Torah are just too glaring to ignore.
Genesis – the first book of Torah – begins: G-d created heaven and earth, and the earth was chaotic and void, with darkness on the face of existence. But the Divine spirit hovered over the water’s surface. G-d said, ‘let there be light, and there was light.’”
Exodus – Torah’s second book – begins with the bitter enslavement of the Jewish people who descended to Egypt. With unprecedented ferocity darkness engulfs them. The Egyptians impose upon the Jews harsh labor and severe persecution intended to crush their spirits and break their bodies.
Despite the continuing intensification of the darkness, to the point that Pharaoh orders the massacre of all Jewish newborn males (“every boy who is born must be cast into the Nile”), a Divine spirit is born and hovers over the water: When Moses was born his mother “saw that he was good” – the entire house filled with light (Sotah 12a. Rashi). After hiding him for three months from the Egyptians “she took a papyrus box, coated it with asphalt and pitch, placed the child in it and put it in the rushes near the bank of the Nile.”
The little child of light lay snugly in a basket hovering over the dark waters of the River Nile, idol of the Egyptians. Until Pharaoh’s daughter, of all people, draws him out of the water – thus naming him Moses (Moshe), because “I bore (mashe) him from the water.” This in turn set in motion all the events that would lead the luminescent Moses to bring light to the Jews in the Egyptian darkness, and ultimately redeem the people in full glory.
Both books of Genesis and Exodus describe the dark nature of existence and the power we have to face our challenges.
Existence by its very nature is a dark place. We begin our lives – as the Torah begins its first two books – experiencing the surface of existence, with its inner nature personality shrouded within. Finding our mission and direction in life does not come easily. Clarity must be earned. Everything real and true must be discovered. Accessing the goodness of man and the beauty of life requires sustained effort and commitment, without which human nature gravitates easily back to self-interest and all its inevitable vices. Even science today has come to the surprising recognition that “dark energy” and “dark matter” is the stuff that makes up the overwhelming majority of our universe (see It’s the Tzimtzum, Stupid).
But hovering above the dark waters is the spirit of G-d – the soul, crafted in the Divine Image. Each of us carries within a Moses-in-microcosm – a force of light floating above the waters. Waiting for us to set her free by fanning the pilot flame of the soul (“G-d’s flame is the soul of man”), allowing it to illuminate everything in its path.
The most powerful message you will ever hear and the greatest blessing you can ever receive is not that you will be immune to the threatening shadows of existence. Rather, that for every moment of gloom you carry within a more powerful force of light. With every disappointment and loss you receive a gift of radiance. Above every illness and tragedy hovers an indomitable spirit that can and will prevail.
As we begin a new solar year, with all the uncertainties that come with the future, we also begin a new book in the Torah, which offers us a wise and timeless lesson: Above all the dark waters of life hovers the Divine spirit, waiting. Waiting for us to ignite its flame and bring light into the world.
“Let there be light” is our mandate. The challenge presented to each of us is this: Will you be part of the darkness or will you be committed to bring light into the night?