Sermon by Guest Service Leader Geoff Adler – January 19, 2018
I debated what to write today. I teetered on many subjects, studied Parshat Bo and the remaining plagues that follow, but still, I was at a loss.
Suddenly it came to me like a whisper in the dark. I knew what I wanted to speak on; and it was two aspects: the plague of darkness, and the unspoken miracle of Bitachon; of trust. What is the connection I wondered? I waited for G-D to whisper the answer to me.
My mother often recounts the story of her own parent’s survival in multiple concentration camps in Germany and Poland. The stories all end the same. “It was Bitachon that kept your grandparents alive.” Rav Yo defines Bitachon as trust in G-D when your own abilities, skills, and knowledge is limited. It is a spiritual surrender that places the burden of survival on G-D, and an understanding that everything will be ok; that G-D does everything for a reason. There is a deliberate purpose and plan for each of us.
I ask you now to take a moment. Think about your lives here in the Chicago-land area. Imagine for a moment I ask you as a teacher in the community for two things. The first thing I ask for is to trust me. Tonight, you will need to leave your homes. I am going to take you to the land that G-D has shown me. Here’s the catch… You may take ONLY what you can carry. Also, you may not ask any questions. Here’s the million dollar question, how many of you will follow me? Raise your hands. (That’s what I thought). Assume for a moment that you did trust me inherently. What will you take? Talk and turn to your neighbor and compare notes. I’ll come through with the microphone for your responses.
This is an exercise I do with my 3rd grade religious school students. It’s harder than it seems. This is what it must have been like for our ancestors during their time in Egypt. How do we make decisions on things we value when pressed for time. People who have experienced house fires must impulsively grab what they can in a moments notice. Assuming all living things are out safely, do you open your safe and grab valuables, or do you take family photos first? The Jews of Egypt were set in Egypt. They had homes. They had families. Though their lives weren’t great, it was predictable. Change is hard. Change is scary. And change is unpredictable. With change comes the unknown. Change challenges us in ways we are not accustomed to, though it can also help us grow too. That the Jews in Egypt followed Moshe whole heartedly is the miracle. The other miracles G-D bestowed on the Egyptians were just plagues. Like my grandparents, the Jews who followed Moshe had Bitachon. They had an unrelenting faith, trust, and confidence that everything would be ok.
The second aspect I wanted to discuss is the 9th plague: darkness. According to Chabad.org, there are many interpretations of the severity of the darkness G-D imposed. In Parshat Bo it says: “A man did not see his fellow, nor did anyone get up from his place for three days.” (10:23) For the next three days, the darkness became so palpable that no Egyptian who was sitting when it started could rise from his place, and no Egyptian who was standing when it started could sit down.
According to the Midrash Rabbah, there were six days of darkness. . . . During the first three, “a man did not see his fellow”; during the last three days, one who was sitting could not stand up, one who was standing could not sit down, and one who was lying down could not raise himself upright.
And yet Chiddushei HaRim takes an entirely different approach. There is no greater darkness than one in which “a man did not see his fellow”—in which a person becomes oblivious to the needs of his fellow man. When that happens, a person becomes stymied in his personal development as well—“nor did anyone get up from his place.”
These interpretations are amazing. As I reflected on Parshat Bo, and my own connections, I had a moment of awakening. I am not ashamed to admit that this summer I too experienced my own darkness. It was a darkness that covered me like a blanket and was all consuming. This summer I experienced clinical depression for which I sought therapy. The antecedents of why are unimportant. The resolution is unimportant too. Like the Egyptians, I discovered and was consumed with a dangerous cloud that could have had dire consequences. I lost interest in all things I loved. I no longer went to the gym. Color became muted, music became a mumbled vibration, and all sense of taste was gone. When the sun rose, I yearned darkness. At dusk I feared and trembled the dark. It was weird. My darkness changed me. And, for the first time in my life I understood what depression was. Today I have a greater appreciation and empathy for those who grapple through it. The prayers that Yonah Klem says during our mishebayrach resonates heavily with me.
I am fortunate to have a VERY loving wife and family who sympathized and supported me through this trying time. As painful as it is, Wendy stood by me entirely. She still does today. For her, I am grateful. She is my Ayshet Chayel, my Woman of Valor. I am grateful to G-D for her every day.
I would argue that the darkness G-D bestowed upon the Egyptians was not a literal kind, but rather figurative. Perhaps G-D created a depression so overwhelming that the Egyptians lost interest in everything around them, and as a result were willing to give away their most valuable possessions for the Jews to take on their exit. Perhaps the miracle is not they couldn’t see their surroundings but rather they lost interest in all things Egypt. This is my opinion and interpretation. Just something to ponder.
I attribute Rav Yo for his guidance and compassion during my time of need. When I called him in early August, I asked for him to provide spiritual guidance. I asked him how to pray. I asked him for tefillah. I asked him what I should pray for. I wanted absolution. Without hesitation he told me very simply: “go to a place of solitude and ask for clarity.” At first I didn’t understand what he meant. Over time however, I grew to understand the significance of his statement. The phrase “go to a place” or “approach” is similar to the definition of the word “Bo” which is this week’s title name. I did ask for clarity time and again. It is significant that I am here with Hasha on the bimah tonight as two of the prayers I listened to continuously on MP3 is “Bayom Hahu” and “Avinu Malkeynu,” the tunes which she delicately orchestrated for our high-holiday services. Today my world has returned, and the things I once loved like lifting, music, and writing I love again!
So… I leave you with this. Very simply. Have bitachon. Have trust. Have trust in the higher power that reigns above us. Know that everything will be ok. Should you find yourself in darkness, seek help and ask for guidance and clarity. When the light returns and your veil is lifted, praise G-D for all that you have. You will feel good that you did. Shabbat Shalom.