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Bring on the Dawn

Faith not only provides comfort and hope; it inspires us to do G-d’s work here on earth.
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February 15, 2024
Gary Yeowell / Getty Images

Are you tempted to turn off cable news, stop watching videos of antisemitic protests, and stay in bed?  I know I am.  

Since the long nightmare began on Oct. 7, each morning brings additional horrors.  The fate of the hostages, war on multiple fronts, the silence of people we once thought of as friends — all contribute to a despair that can seem overwhelming.  When, we might ask, will it ever end?  If it is true that it is darkest before the dawn, we await the light, because these days are among the darkest in memory.

It was just a couple of months ago when our outrage was focused on the Israeli government’s heavy-handed and divisive efforts at “judicial reform.”  Few can deny the legitimate threat that misguided attempt posed to Israel’s unity, and to the support for Israel from those of us in the Jewish Diaspora.  But while the good old days may not have been so great, I would return to them in a minute.   

Now we worry not just about Israeli leadership; we worry about whether our ancient homeland will be our forever homeland.

Some commentators have made the point that today’s misery is reminiscent of the ninth plague in the Passover story – darkness.  Rabbi David Wolpe has asked why that plague was so terrible compared with those that came before (water turning into blood, pestilence, and the rest), and the horrible one (the slaying of the first born) that followed.  What, after all, is so awful about darkness?  Light a candle and you will be able to see.  But perhaps, Rabbi Wolpe notes, the type of darkness described in Exodus 10:21, “a darkness that can be touched,” doesn’t vanish in the presence of artificial light.  If it is an internal darkness, nothing can possibly provide illumination.  

If there is such a thing as darkness in our hearts, there might also be an internal light.  In Bereishit, on the first day of creation there was light.  Puzzling, as the sun, moon, and stars weren’t created until day four.  Light without the sun?  Maybe the original light was a spark within each of us, guiding our thoughts and our actions.

If we trust in that internal light, we may be able to overcome the internal darkness.  Faith has invigorated Jews since the days of Abraham.  As one of countless examples, the most powerful miracle of Hanukkah might not be that a small jar of oil burned for eight days; it may be that believers lit the flame in the first place, praying that it would last eight days.  That abiding faith is an integral element of Judaism, helping to explain our resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.    

Faith not only provides comfort and hope; it inspires us to do G-d’s work here on earth.  And there is so much work to be done.  Write to government officials, travel to Israel, donate your time and money, confront hatred on the internet and in your everyday interactions.  None of this will happen if we close our eyes and hide.

The beautiful and powerful Mi Shebeirach prayer asks G-d, the source of all strength, to bless those in need of healing with the renewal of body and spirit.  And it also asks G-d to help each of us “find the courage to make our lives a blessing.”

Here is my hope: That we take that prayer to heart and summon the courage to thrive; that when we look back at these trying times a year from now, we are able to rejoice in our own recovery and that of the State of Israel.

Here is my hope: That we take that prayer to heart and summon the courage to thrive; that when we look back at these trying times a year from now, we are able to rejoice in our own recovery and that of the State of Israel; that the global Jewish community emerges more united than it had ever been in the past; and that Judaism continues to serve as a beacon of light for all humanity.  Kein Y’hi Ratzon.  May it be G-d’s will.  And may it be the result of courageous people refusing to succumb to the darkness of despair.


Morton Schapiro is the former president of Williams College and Northwestern University.  His most recent book (with Gary Saul Morson) is “Minds Wide Shut:  How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us.”

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