During winter months, at least once a week while speaking with my father on the phone, he somehow finds a way to bring up the weather in conversation. He will ask, “how’s the weather up there?”--My parents live in South Florida. I might reply, “it’s not too bad, just below freezing, but bearable.” To this, my father usually says, “here it's not so great either, it did not quite make it to 80 [degrees] today.” I can feel his smirk from 1500 miles away. While speaking on the phone, sharing our realities with each other, we physically live in different ones. His is bright and warm, and mine is darker and colder. At one moment, all of this is true.
In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Shmot, we are introduced to Moses. After growing up in Egypt and fleeing from there, he encounters God at the burning bush and is charged with going back to Egypt as God’s messenger in order to free the Israelites from bondage. Moses’ first major concern is that the people will not trust him and will not believe in him. God then gives him signs to show the people. God shows Moses how a staff can become a serpent and that a hand can become diseased and healed in an instant. God then reassures Moses (Ex. 4: 8-9), “If they will not believe you or heed the first sign, they may believe the second sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or heed you, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground/וְהָיָה אִם-לֹא יַאֲמִינוּ לָךְ, וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ לְקֹל הָאֹת הָרִאשׁוֹן--וְהֶאֱמִינוּ לְקֹל הָאֹת הָאַחֲרוֹן. וְהָיָה אִם-לֹא יַאֲמִינוּ גַּם לִשְׁנֵי הָאֹתוֹת הָאֵלֶּה, וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּן לְקֹלֶךָ--וְלָקַחְתָּ מִמֵּימֵי הַיְאֹר וְשָׁפַכְתָּ הַיַּבָּשָׁה; וְהָיוּ הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר תִּקַּח מִן-הַיְאֹר וְהָיוּ לְדָם בַּיַּבָּשֶׁת.”
The Ben Ish Hai (Rabbi Yosef Haim, 19th Century Baghdad) explains that the reason that all of these signs are necessary is to prove that all things come from the same source. Both the constructive and the destructive come from God. The One that makes sick also heals. The One that sends a people into exile also redeems and delivers them to the Promised Land. And that is why the Rabbis established for us that we mention day during the night (Page 107 in Siddur Sim Shalom--Praised are You Hashem our God, who rules the universe, creating light and fashioning darkness.../ברוך אתה ה’ אלוקינו מלך העולם, יוצר אור ובורא חושך) and night during the day (Page 28 in Siddur Sim Shalom--...rolling light away from darkness and darkness away from light/גולל אור מפני חושך וחושך מפני אור). These blessings/brachot/ברכות remind us that both light and darkness come from the same source.
Additionally, the Ben Ish Hai teaches that the reason we say these blessings is so that we may understand a fundamental truth about our world. There is no time when it is day that it is not also night, and there is no time when it is night that it is not also day. While the sun shines on our half of the world, it is dark on the other side of the globe, and vice versa. When some are experiencing light, others are experiencing darkness.
We are living in complex times. Some are experiencing light while others experience darkness. We must try our hardest to remember that the world constantly turns--light becomes dark and light again. This week, let us take up the important charge to remember that when things are good, there is still pain and suffering in this world. And when things feel destructive, goodness and tranquility are just beyond the horizon.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.