24 mai 2008

Rabbi Gershon Winkler, When Darkness Reigns, (full text)

The 12th-century Rabbi Avraham ibn Daud taught: “With the Changing cycles of planetary configuration comes renewal of Nature on our earth. And with the renewal of nature, which we Experience as seasonal changes, comes also the renewal of the Soul of all creatures” (on Sefer Yetsirah 3:4). Indeed, when the world around us renews itself in Spring, we feel good inside. Our Hearts, like seeds in the earth, begin to open and to sprout. When the world around us renews itself further in Summer, we feel Ripe inside. Our hearts, like the fruits of the earth, feel full With color and aroma, and begin to ripen. When the world around us renews itself yet again in Autumn, we feel mixed, celebrative around the bountiful harvest of all that has come to fruition for us, and at the same time a little fearful that it won’t happen again as we witness the promise of bounty vanishing before our eyes as the trees bare themselves of leaves and the earth sucks in the green from the brush and meadows.

And then we are left to the mercy of Winter, when the nights grow longer and longer, the light of day shorter and shorter, and all the while no sound of growth, of future, not outside our window, not inside our soul. Needless to say, for many of us the winter months are a tad difficult, even at times depressing. Our soul yearns for any semblance of the light it had once known, even if in the form of sun light, and now even that ebbs away with every passing day.

The ancient rabbis taught: “Three things were made before the creation of our world: Water, Wind, and Fire. Water birthed darkness, Fire birthed light, and Wind birthed wisdom” (Midrash Sh’mot Rabbah 15:22). The light that Fire birthed is experienced in the long hot days of summer; the darkness that Water birthed is experienced in the long cold nights of winter. Both are accompanied by Wind, the winds of cold, the winds of heat in their respective seasons, meaning also therefore that both bring their own unique wisdom since wisdom is the child of Wind. What, then, is the wisdom of Winter?

This may come as a surprise to some of us, but our ancient mystical tradition teaches us that Darkness is but a garment for Light. It is as much representative of God as is Light. In the words of the Zohar: “And God said, ‘Let us make the human in our Image, according to our Likeness’ (Genesis 1:26). ‘In our Image – this means Light; According to our Likeness – this means Darkness,’ for Darkness is the garment of the Light no less than the body is the garment of the soul” (Zohar, Vol. 1, folio 22b). Darkness, again, is as much representative of God as is Light, and the gift and wisdom of Winter is the opportunity to connect to that particular quality of God within us that accessible only through Darkness – in particular, the darkness of Winter.

The gift of darkness is its veiling of light. While light is good in that it brings us clarity, enables us to experience our environment and be inspired by color and shape, it can also at times detract from our inner selves, removing our focus so far away from our self-essence with its tantalizing array of visuals too much of which tends to externalize our selfhood. The balance that darkness then brings to light is to dim the distractions that light enables so that we are forced to return deeper and deeper into our selves just like the earth in Winter is breathing into herself all that she had in Spring breathed out of herself. In Winter, we get into the veiling place, into the consciousness of Essence, Self-Essence, God-Essence, Earth-Essence – the experience of the unification of variety, reminding ourselves during this sacred season that all variety is actually contained within and originated from a single source.

Our ancestors therefore celebrated the oncoming of winter with virtually an entire month of rituals that ranged from personal introspection and celebration to hope for the blessings winter rains to reinforcement of faith in the return of Spring. This lengthy train of festivals and ceremonies -- just as the earth was withdrawing her yield, and the days growing shorter, the nights longer – served not only to celebrate the harvest cycle but also served to prepare our ancestors emotionally and spiritually for the gift as well as the mystery of Winter. Having taken in all that had been gifted of the earth, they were left with no sign, no promise, that anything would ever grow again, that the sun would ever shine as did before, to bring warmth and to draw forth nurturance. The festivals and their rich ceremonies, however, instilled in our ancestors the faith they needed to let go of tomorrow’s worries – basically external focus – and to divert their attention instead to the blessings of the moment-at-hand – basically internal focus.

Judaism then teaches us to celebrate both ends of the Solstice, the darker side of it and the lighter side, that both are equally as sacred and equally worthy of celebration. That there is a major discrepancy between the way we allow seasonal changes like winter to affect us and the way it really can affect us in a wholesome, nurturing way. And, like the Zohar taught us, we need to start thinking outside the box and see Darkness as much the image of God as Light.

So bring on the darkness and let us celebrate her.

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