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The Light at the End of the Tunnel

05/08/2023 08:32:22 AM


Cantor Mark Levine

Over the last couple of months, Congregation Brith Shalom gifted me a sabbatical during which I traveled throughout Europe, encountering history, various cultures and the beauty of God’s majestic world. I spent much time at sea encountering the greatest musical composition ever produced, the unrelenting sounds of the waves. Gazing out upon the endless Mediterranean Sea, as it extended to the horizon where water seemingly met sky, my heart was moved to blessing…Oseh Maasei Vereshit – Praised is God, Whose incredible works are nothing short of aweful – that’s aweful with an “e” and far more powerful than the limited awesome.

While on the Spanish island of Mallorca, I boarded an old-fashioned train for a one-hour ride from Soller to Palma de Mallorca. The scenery as we descended from the mountains was spectacular, fields of green, communities built into the mountains, and wildlife dotting the hillside. We also rode through thirteen tunnels which had been constructed through mountains to reduce the time of the journey. Each tunnel was specifically designed for the train, leaving little spare space on each side.  Although there were lights on the train, it was clear that we had entered tunnels of darkness from which we emerge and once again encounter a world of light.

Tunnels represent one of humanity’s best efforts at improving life.  I grew up in the New York/New Jersey area where the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels beneath the Hudson River were a regular, and underappreciated, part of life. God’s gift of wisdom has enabled thousands upon thousands to daily traverse the river into the island of Manhattan, and to return safely later in the day. England and France, separated by a 50-mile channel of water, have come together to construct the “Chunnel” – a brilliant system of moving cars 40 meters below the surface of the channel in 35 minutes. Life is indeed enhanced by the existence of tunnels through rock and across expanses of water.

The imagery of tunnels echoes through life as well. We have all had movements of darkness through which we must journey to reach the “light at the end of the tunnel.” This reality has been true throughout history. Despite the Bible’s silence on the topic, imagine the darkness which must have descended upon Abraham during his three-day journey to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Consider the years of dark pain for Jacob during which he believed his favorite son, Joseph, had been devoured by beasts. Moses must have experienced complete terror as he fled from Pharaoh after killing an Egyptian taskmaster.

Collectively, the Jewish people have undergone numerous moments of fear and darkness – from slavery, to a Temple destroyed and one million Jews slaughtered by the Romans, to Crusades and Inquisitions, to pogroms and the Holocaust. Historically, the tunnels of darkness, have proven consistent elements of Jewish life, collectively and individually.

In the Maariv, the evening service, we read in the first blessing, Goleil Or Mipnei Choshech, v’Choshech Mipnei Or… That God rolls away the light before the darkness and the darkness bore the light. Contextually,this blessing expresses appretiation for being able to anticipate the cycles of nature so that we can literally and figurately plant seeds and reap the benefits, Midrashically, we can understand that life, too, is composed of cycles, dark and light. Life experience enables the comprehension that, no matter what is experienced today, change is on the horizon.

Perhaps the greatest gift of my sabbatical was the opportunity to share new experiences with so many people. Inevitably, as I sat down to dinner with my fellow passengers and tourists and as they learned of my profession, stories emerged. I heard explanations of where they were in their religious journeys and questions about how Judaism differed from their Jesus centered lives. But within those stories I also heard of the difficulties and the challenges of life. Some later pulled me aside to share traumas they had experienced. Over the years, many of you have also shared with me your times in a tunnel of darkness. None of us are immune. I’ve been there; you’ve been there.

Let us not believe that one can escape suffering through success, through fame, through fortune, or even through traveling the world. I did a great deal of reading during the last few months, some fiction, some non-fiction, and some whose definition was less clear. One of the books I read was Prince Harry’s “Spare.”

Having spent more than a week in the UK and then on a four- week British sponsored cruise ship with a passenger roster more than 95% from the UK, I repeatedly asked people their perspectives on royalty, on Prince Harry’s book and his subsequent interviews. The range of responses was as vast as the seemingly endless ocean. But what I had reinforced from reading Prince Harry’s book was that fame and fortune cannot shield one the tunnels of life. It’s easy to trivialize another’s pain through a process of surface level comparisons. But, as my close friend, Michelle Litt, repeats when I deny the impact of something negative which has happened to me…, “Suffering, like life, is not a competition.” If you are in pain…it’s real and worthy of exploring.” Life is complex and there are true emotional challenges, dark tunnels, inherent within all of our lives. Fortunately, as we age, as we normally grow wiser, we come to understand the cyclical nature of life, the highs of significant moments and the moments when we find ourselves tunneling below the pressures of life.

At the Akeidah, Abraham found his light at the end of tunnel when Isaac was spared.  Jacob too was enlightened by discovering his son still alive and second in command to Pharaoh over all Egypt.  And the life of Moses was illuminated by a closeness to God unparalleled in human history.

Collectively, despite the determined efforts of Pharaoh, Nevuchadnezzar, Vespasian and Titus, Torquemada, Chmeilnitzki, several czars, Stalin and Hitler – we sit here today, striving for closeness with God. “Rolling away the darkness from before the light” – on our journeys, tunnels are inevitable but so is the light at the end.

Home, I’m home. Back to my community; returned to a place among so many friends with whom I’ve shared so much. May it be God’s will that we continue to serve as guides and support structures for one another on our travels through tunnels. And may we fully embrace the myriad of lights with total joy and celebration. Y’hi Or – Let there be Light.

Shabbat Shalom

Mon, September 25 2023 10 Tishrei 5784