Progressively Speaking: We can see the light even as the days darken

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Progressively Speaking: We can see the light even as the days darken

 Rabbi Deborah Blausten takes a topical issue and offers a Reform response

Sunset (Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash)
Sunset (Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash)

Each night as we count down towards Rosh Hashanah and now Yom Kippur, it has become progressively darker. The nights and shorter days at the start of a chilly September felt like a mirror of the news around us. 

Rising cases of the Delta variant, flooding and forest fires, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan. It seemed rather incongruous to talk of renewal at a time of such uncertainty and when hope felt quite so fragile. 

The Talmud explains that Jews use a lunar calendar while other civilisations use a solar calendar. It’s tempting to make a bleak joke about Jews orienting ourselves around darkness, but it’s not just a joke – rather it is exactly in this image of renewal in darkness that our teachers across the generations have found meaning.  

Rav Soloveitchik taught that Jews celebrate renewal not when we can see it, but when it’s barely visible. 

We don’t rejoice in the light we can see, but when we begin a new month or year we understand and nurture the promise of future light. We allow ourselves to be caught up in the cyclical nature of light and dark, and the hope embedded within it.  It’s always darkest right before dawn.

Just as nature, so too human experience; we move between moments of dazzling light and moments of all enveloping darkness. Our ancestors gathered for festivals in darkness, and kindled lights together. 

I find the image of renewal in the dark to be orientating, because although September begins so many new beginnings, a new school year, new jobs, a new Jewish year, I think we are perhaps even more aware than last year that the promise of a return to the world as we knew it has not materialised in the way we had hoped. 

Despite the immense positivity that vaccines represent, the roaring 2020s still feel a bit far in the distance, and in the light of this middle moon we can see so much of the suffering in our world.  

It might make us feel ambivalent about the new year, because instead of renewal it reminds us that things aren’t quite right yet. And yet, there’s something so essential about our Judaism that seeks to bring light, to build in moments when we need hope but can’t yet see it, and to gift ourselves the opportunity to feel feelings and be part of something we have missed.  

  •  Rabbi Deborah Blausten serves Finchley Reform Synagogue

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