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Is There an End to Darkness?

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

Parashat Miketz and Chanukah

By Rabbi T. Burton


And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river. (Genesis 41:1)



At the End


In the Midrash, there are two perspectives on this verse, specifically with regard to the phrase קץ, ketz, “at the end” (Bereishis Rabbah 89:1, Yalkut Shimoni, Parshat Miketz). The first refers to a verse in Job, which states, “He has set an end to darkness” (Job 28:3). The second conveys the idea that G-d decrees the end of darkness and the return of light, and causes certain events to happen in order to bring about the transition.



The Evil and Good Impulses

According to the first idea, the concept of an end to darkness is about the evil urge and the good urge, namely, that the end of the reign of the evil urge signifies the ability of the good urge to unfurl its wings and fly, purifying the person who possesses it, and enabling the world to reach its state of spiritual perfection. This is a hoped-for change in the way the world operates at present, where we have to hold on to small sparks of goodness to help us get through the tribulations of everyday life. In the future, however, because the evil urge will be conquered, the light will manifest itself to a much greater degree.



How Divine Providence Works


The second understanding is about how Divine Providence works. On a surface level, it appears that Joseph was brought out of prison to solve the riddle of Pharaoh’s dream. But in actuality, G-d had determined when the end of Joseph’s prison term would be, and when the time came, He created the pretext for Joseph’s freedom. It was not Pharaoh’s dream that was the central theme of the story from the perspective of Divine Providence, but the redemption of Joseph, and Pharaoh's dream was but a catalyst to bring this redemption about.



A Deeper Understanding of "Ketz"


What we have here is a deeper understanding of the concept of קץ, “the end”, a template about how history moves from one phase to another. Our experience of time is different from G-d’s. We find ourselves in time periods that it appears we must wait out before things change for us, but all the while we hope and pray for the transition to come, as if salvation is overdue, as if we’ve borne it too long. Meanwhile, from G-d’s perspective, everything that happens in the world and within time, happens exactly according to His schedule. From our vantage point, the movement of historical eras is like the quantum leap of an atom to and from its excited state, something we are unable to detect. But this is not the case for G-d. His Name means, “Was, Is, and Will be”; past, present and future are irrelevant terms with regard to His sense of time. He is above time. Time is a construct that only we need to live with.



Living Within Time


On the other hand, we are not only subject to the physics of time, but we are also required to live within time, and to adhere to its parameters. We cannot observe Chanukah in May, or Pesach in August; the reason why the Sabbath observer does not perform work on Shabbat is because he becomes obligated in the laws of Shabbat from a certain moment in time and onwards for the following twenty-five hours, not before and not after.


We are not allowed to waste time. We are charged with making the best use of it, with sanctifying it. Yet, “membership has its privileges”; if we are to live within the construct of time, it seems that we are also allowed to yearn for a better future and hope for it to come sooner than later. Nevertheless, a challenge remains: how can we keep our eyes on the future and yet not neglect the all-important process of the present moment? Stuff that we don’t want to deal with is not irrelevant, otherwise He would not have caused it!


Therefore, the key is maintaining two levels of understanding: one, that G-d is running the show, and He is doing so perfectly, and therefore I can harvest the meaning of this moment, of this phase, of this challenge, and two, that the present is simply a prelude to a greater and brighter future.



Focus on the Miracle or the Victory?


I think that is why we tend to focus more on the miracle of the oil on Chanukah, why our Sages decided that the proper way to commemorate the events of Chanukah is through the lighting of the menorah, why we say a full Hallel thanking G-d every day of Chanukah for the salvation--and why we pretty much ignore our the element of our victory in war against the Hellenists. The strength and valor of the Maccabees were interesting items of note, but they were assigned to a specific point in time; what made the war important at all was the miraculous nature of the victory, G-d’s involvement with the war.



We Can Endure the Darkness


The lights of Chanukah, by contrast, represent a much deeper and permanent accomplishment: the victory of holiness over the forces of impurity. This is not only about the present moment, but also about the future, even the world beyond our present one. We are able to bear the darkness of this world, because of the brilliance of the coming world. And so, we hold onto the small but sure Chanukah lights the way one maintains his or her faith in difficult times knowing that eventually, we will inherit a world where, “the voice of joy and salvation will be sounded for Israel, when the vision of rescue comes, the Rock shall cause salvation to sprout; the light of My sun shall appear, shining forever, a Sabbath of rest” (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria [the Ari z”l], “Yom Zeh L’Yisrael” (from the z’mirot of Friday night).



Written by Rabbi Tani Burton

 

Tani Burton is a life coach, psychotherapist, author and educator living in Jerusalem, Israel. A special interest of his is the Torah's universal message for humanity, its prescription for right living, a close and personal relationship with G-d, and the opportunities we all have to make the world a better place.


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