Thursday, January 10, 2019

One Way Or Another This Darkness Got To Give (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "New Speedway Boogie"

          Our high school age children resumed school following a two week winter vacation.  During the vacation, they had to complete an assigned book. Our daughter read The Book of Negros, otherwise known as Someone Knows My Name in the United States. Like a good father, I asked my daughter about the book, the main character’s journey and how massive historical events and themes affected her life such as the institution of slavery, the American Revolution, the British retreat to Newfoundland and the migration of numerous black servants and “freed men” to Newfoundland as well as the British Empire’s policy of abolishing slavery from the empire. Needless to say, it was a fascinating discussion and gave her lots of material for the essay she must now begin. Our son read George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Like a good father, I asked my son about the book and the main animal characters in particular I ask him about the character named Napoleon as he is the character that assumes autocratic/dictatorial power of the farm under the guise of helping all the animals. Specifically, I asked him about the process by which he was able to take over a movement that originally was designed to empower all the animals and consolidate that power and control for himself. My son explained that Napoleon played on the fear that the animals  of humans and that he, Napoleon, was the only one who could protect them. Also, he used propaganda, disinformation, and constantly lied so that the truth was always hidden from the animals. By keeping the animals in the dark, by preventing the flow of information and diluting the truth; there was no sense of truth. As a result, the animals never achieved the freedom that they thought they would attain when they rid themselves of Farmer Jones.

          This week's Parsha is Bo.  The ten plagues culminate with locusts, darkness and finally the killing of the first born. On the night of the last plague, God instructs Moshe to tell B'nai Yisroel to slaughter a lamb for each family. The blood should be painted onto the door- post. The sacrificed lamb must be completely eaten that night with no leftovers.  The command continues with God instructing Moshe to reiterate this story to the children of each family. The Parsha concludes with the command to sanctify the first born, remember this night, remember what God did for B'nai Yisroel, and how B'nai Yisroel eventually returned to the land. 

          The second to last plague is Choshech, darkness. Vayomer Adonai El Moshe N'Teih Yadchah Al Hashamayim - And God said to Moshe "Stretch forth your hand toward the heavens , Va'Yehi Choshech Al Eretz Mitzrayim - "And there will be a darkness upon the land of Egypt , Vayameish Choshech - and the darkness will depart. (Ex. 10:21). What does it mean that the darkness will depart? If darkness departs doesn’t that mean light arrives? Typical darkness is merely the absence of light. According to Sforno, the great Italian Renaissance commentator, typical darkness is atmosphere prepared to receive light. After all the moon reflects light into the night, and the stars shine a light as well. Sforno explains that the word VaYameish comes from three letter root M-Oo-Sh : Mem Vav Shin which to feel or touch. The plague of darkness conjures up the image of a person trying to feel their way in the darkness, lost and unable to see immediately in front as if they have their hands outstretched and feeling their way around.  This plague is perhaps the most perfectly designed plague in that it can only affect the Egyptian because they were free. This type of darkness could not affect the Hebrew slaves. Prior to the darkness, the free Egyptians could come and go as they pleased, they were not confined, they had freedom of movement. Obviously slaves do not enjoy freedom of movement. Rather, like a prisoner, the slaves were captive and bound by very physical limits. However with the kind of darkness that leaves one groping and feeling one’s way; the slave will eventually feel his/her way to the boundaries  and be able to very quickly be able to figure out the shape and dimensions of that confined space.

          It is no surprise therefore, that B'nai Yisroel still had light in their dwellings. Why?  The descendants of Jacob the Patriarch, are the beneficiaries of a covenant that God made with Jacob, and a means to avoid groping around in the darkness trying to find their way. They saw the limits, in another words, the slaves saw boundaries in Mitzvot (commandments) and law. They saw the boundaries of time as in the commandment of the New Moon. They saw boundaries in terms of space. Within the confines of their home, they were to eat the Passover sacrifice, answer their children’s questions, and tell them the story of the Passover. B’nai Yisroel would never have darkness because asking questions, and the process by which time is controlled (declaring a New Moon) requires information, truth and the recognition that everyone must adhere to law. My son explained that dictators and autocrats prefer darkness; that way information, and truth is hidden, and laws and the legal process can be turned upside down. He thanked me for the discussion and said he thinks he has enough material to apply the lessons in Animal Farm to current autocrats, dictators and those who wish to emulated autocrats and dictators. Sounds like an interesting essay. 

Rav Yitz 

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