I knew a man who went through a terrible and bitter divorce. He battled for years. There were no winners. There were only losers. The bitterness of battle entered his bones. And a decade later it remains with its cohorts, anger, depression, jealousy and rage. The darkness consumed him and spread to those around him. I never saw him smile again.
I knew a man who was very wealthy. He had everything that money could buy. Homes, cars, boats and all the trappings were his. He enjoyed every day of his life. And then one day, it all disappeared. The business, the money, the homes, and the toys were all gone. But the man realized there was more to life. He could have sunk into the misery of despair, but he didn’t. He didn’t stop working. He didn’t stop trying. Every day was a gift. Every day was an opportunity as long as the sun rose for him. I never saw him frown. I never saw him complain. And although he lived out his days without much, he was happy with what he had. His smile remained day in and day out and reflected in those he touched.
I knew a man who lost his young child in a sudden accident. He told me that it was a time so terrible that one could not even imagine the nightmare. He thought he would never recover. How could he? But within the darkness, he decided to light a match. The match became a light bulb and the light bulb a beacon. Through this child’s death, he rose up and decided to make a difference. And with his family, they touched thousands of lives in their acts of kindness. Not only did he smile again, but he brought countless smiles to countless people.
This week we read the portion of Behaalotecha and within the words of the Torah one finds a message of a world where one can wallow in his own depression and complaints, or a world of second chances, of raising the spirit and of clearing the darkness away. The choice is ours.
Towards the end of the portion we read: They cried out, “who will feed us meat? We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for free” along with the watermelon, cucumbers and scallions. “And now our souls are dried, all we see is the manna.” How quickly does one forget one’s past struggles, the slavery, the killing of their children, the bricks, the hard labor and lack of freedom? How quickly does one forget the miracles of life, the exodus, the splitting of the sea, the revelation at Sinai, the well, the maan and the clouds? With a lack of appreciation, one quickly falls down the slippery slide into sadness, depression and darkness. Complaining is just the first of the symptoms.
Contrast this with the concept of Pesach Sheni which we read about this week. At the start of the second year in the desert, some of Benai Yisrael cannot bring the korban Pesach because they are ritually impure due to contact with corpses. They don’t want to miss out on bringing the offering, and ask Moses for a second chance. G-d informs Moshe that they can wait a month, and bring the korban on the 14th of Iyyar. Too many people who see an opportunity slide away or who fail at something in their lives are overcome by that failure. They often believe that a missed chance will never come again. They see the window close and believe it will never open again; rarely realizing that their own belief is what keeps the window shut, and rarely trying to open it themselves. One must never forget that very few people who are successful are successful without having failed. King Solomon teaches us that, “a righteous man can fall seven times and rise, but the wicked shall stumble upon evil.” These people, who come to Moses, refuse to simply stand by and see opportunity slip by. It’s so important to remember that more than I want a second chance; G-d wants me to succeed.
The message is loudest at the outset of the portion where Aaron is commanded to light the Menorah. The verb used is not to kindle the fire, but to raise up the flame. And this commandment comes each day to that Aaron who resides within each of us, the priest, the pursuer of peace, the cheerleader. That voice must remind us to raise the flame and raise our spirits. Rabbi Uriel Vigler writes, “A flame is among the most intriguing phenomena in this world. Its incessant flickering grants it a mysterious quality that can only be defined as a frantic bid to return to its source. The wick of the candle is the flames only deterrent of its goal, ensuring it remains down below, where it belongs. But the flame constantly struggles against this force, desiring to cleave to its source and become nullified within it. Traditionally, the soul of man is compared to a glittering flame: “ki ner hashem nishmat adam” the Talmud tell us. The similarity is seen in the soul’s inherent desire to connect with G-d, to cleave to its source above, thus transcending this material world, while at the same time wishing to remain inside a physical body.”
We must be like the flame, always rising up. The Hebrew word ner – candle or flame – is made of two letters, a nun and a resh. It cannot be a coincidence that the physical item we choose to represent the soul uses the two letters that represent the soul. Our lowest level of soul is the Nefesh or life force, the next is the Ruach or spirit and finally the Neshama or higher soul using a Nun, Resh, Nun.
The thought is echoed in Aaron’s raising of each Levite. Again he is raising us, but more that, we use the word tenufah which in Hebrew can also allude to momentum. We must keep rising, we must keep going forward. We must never stop. When we stop, we don’t simply stay where we are. We fall backwards.
The dark side’s greatest power is simply in being the dark side. Intimidating that there is nowhere to go, its tools are sadness and depression. We pray three times each day that G-d should remove from us yagon – sadness and anacha – depression, but in those words allude to the forces of the dark side whose success lies in our own gloom from which we fail to rise. This is our greatest enemy, an enemy which attacks from within.
“So it was, whenever the ark set out, Moses would say, Arise, O Lord, may Your enemies be scattered and may those who hate You flee from You.” Again words from this week’s portion; words we repeat each time we open the ark to take out the Torah. Ki Ner Misvah VeTorah Ohr - For a misvah is a candle, and the Torah is light.
When one reveals light darkness is forced away.
Life is filled with failure. We all fail time and again. And failure often leads to sadness and depression. But there is where we have the choice. We can wallow in the bitterness and the bitterness will take over our very existence. Or we can appreciate each day as the opportunity it is and set aside the sadness and get up. We can add to the darkness or become a source of light to the world. We can frown or we can smile. We can bring sadness or we can bring joy. Hashem gives us a second chance and a third and a fourth. The door is never closed. More than we want the light, He wants to give us the light.
So when you find yourself falling into that pit of darkness, catch yourself. Yes, it’s difficult. And no doubt, you think you’ll never make it out of this mess. But ask for His help. Lift yourself. Find that inner strength. Reach into your immortal soul. G-d promises, if we simply crack open the window a bit, he will lift it open for us completely. Become a phoenix.