Rabbi Kass' Bulletin: The Night Has A Purpose
Every morning we recite a prayer praising God as “the creator of light and darkness, the maker of everything.” The blessings of light are obvious. The benefits of darkness,
however, are not always immediately apparent. Indeed, darkness and night have become metaphors for all the evil and hostile forces in the universe. But darkness also has a powerfully significant role of a positive nature to play in our lives. As if to underline that fact, the principal observance of Passover, the seder, has to be held at night. The reason is that the plague of the firstborn and the miracle of the Exodus happened at night. In a beautiful poem contained in the Haggadah many other major night-time occurrences that brought benediction to the Jewish people are cited: Abraham’s victory over his enemies; Jacob’s striving with the angel; Deborah’s defeat of Sisera; Daniel’s rescue from the lion’s den; and the humiliation of Haman.
Our nation is currently grappling with the darkness of an economy in free fall and the banking system in a state of complete collapse. Vast numbers of Americans are downsizing their standard of living. These problems, serious, baffling and saddening as they are, may not be all bad. Many social commentators have reminded us that the night of adversity can bring out our finest qualities. We Jews certainly know a great deal about that. We have made a specialty, not only of surviving horrendous trials and
tribulations, but responding in brilliant, creative, and effective ways. Although the Middle Ages in Europe are often referred to by historians as the Dark Ages, it marked a magnificent and glorious efflorescence of Jewish culture. This was the epoch which produced such giants of the mind and spirit as Rashi, Yehudah Halevi and Moses Maimonides. In the nineteenth century Czar Nicholas I of Russia introduced the cantonist system which forcibly removed young Jewish boys from their home and forced them to serve in the army for twenty-five years. It was part of the czar’s strategy to destroy the Jewish people. But the cantonists, despite the paucity of their Jewish knowledge and separation from their familial roots for a quarter century, manifested astounding tenacity and determination to remain Jews. The modern State of Israel has never known a day of real peace during its 61 years of existence; nevertheless, it has enriched human civilization in such disparate areas as science, medicine, engineering, agriculture, literature, music, city planning, and military defense.
The realization that many of our current problems are the result of greed and avarice has also led to a reexamination of our values. It used to be that we unquestioningly accepted the axiom that wealth equals worth and that money is the scorecard which measures how well we are doing. Indeed, for many the pursuit of profit had become “the civil religion” of America. Judaism is certainly not opposed to affluence. As Tevye puts it in Fiddler on the Roof: “Poverty is no crime; but it’s no great honor either.” What is important is how we get it and what we do with it. When wealth is acquired immorally, as it was by Bernie Madoff, it destroys both the perpetrator and the victims. When wealth is achieved honestly, it is a useful and necessary instrument for human betterment.
The genius of Judaism consists precisely in its offering the blueprint for the proper use of wealth that is so lacking in the general society. How else do you explain the astronomical sums that Jews donate to charity every year far out of proportion to the paucity of their numbers? The Jewish commitment to tzedakah is the result of three thousand years of indoctrination. No more graphic illustration of this fidelity to charity exists than the life of Moses who gave up the delights, the security, and the prerogatives of the royal palace in order “to go out to his brothers and see their burdens.” Tevye the milkman also knew and appreciated the Jewish philosophy of wealth. That is why, when he muses about what life would be like “if I were a rich man,” he affirms that “the sweetest thing of all” would be the opportunity to pursue the spiritual and educational purposes of life such as spending more time in the synagogue at prayer in “a seat by the eastern wall” and “discussing the holy books with the learned men seven hours every day.”
Even with a paucity of cash, life can be beautiful. Instead of constantly running to a million destinations and doing a multitude of useless things, we can enjoy the pleasure of our home and family. Maybe now we can finally read that book we were supposed to get through but kept postponing. Most important, perhaps we will at long last take the time to think about the really important things in life.
I certainly hope that before long, the current financial crises will pass over. I suspect that sadly people will then go back to their old ways. But I hope that at least some of the valuable and constructive experiences generated by the current situation will yield enduring insights. Remember, God created everything. The night, like the day, has its purposes!
Miryom, Sarah, Lewis and Sarah, Danny and Debby, Judah and Bennett join me in wishing you a chag sameach v’kasher, a Happy and Kosher Passover.