When the Lights Go On

Can you visualize being in a theater that was fully dark for a long time, and then when it was time to leave, the bright lights are suddenly turned on? Or, what about walking out of a dim room into a bright and sunny hallway? It can be too much too fast and our eyes can’t handle it! Just as this is with physical light, it is also true with spiritual light and truth.

In Parshat Vayigash, after 22 years of separation, Joseph’s brothers suspect that he is either missing or dead but to their incredible surprise, Joseph shines a bright light on them and reveals himself.  

Genesis 45:3

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יוֹסֵ֤ף אֶל־אֶחָיו֙ אֲנִ֣י יוֹסֵ֔ף הַע֥וֹד אָבִ֖י חָ֑י וְלֹֽא־יָכְל֤וּ אֶחָיו֙ לַעֲנ֣וֹת אֹת֔וֹ כִּ֥י נִבְהֲל֖וּ מִפָּנָֽיו׃

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still well?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dumbfounded were they on account of him.

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz (1550 –1619) who served as the Rabbi of Prague from 1604 to 1619, explains in his commentary entitled the Kli Yakar that this poignant moment in the Torah serves as an alarming reminder for all people regarding their own life pursuits, opinions, and behaviors. He states that just as when hearing about their brother whom they got rid of because of his perceived self-grandiosity, and with G-d’s help actually rises to be viceroy of Egypt, so too we could very well one day learn that what we held so dear and believed was so true, was completely off base and wrong. What then?

When communism came crashing down in the last 1980s in Europe with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it was a breath of fresh air for the free world, and it permitted millions a new lease on life. But what about those that gave their lives to the communist cause, or those who died on the altar of communism? When the lights turned on, it was Earth shattering for all involved.

We are taught in the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Shabbat 31A that when a person dies and goes to heaven, they will be confronted with all their accomplishments and failures alike. They will be rewarded for all the good and held accountable for all the not good. In effect, the lights will be turned on, and they will need to adjust to the light of truth.

The antidote to being blinded by these lights of truth is to live life with humility and flexibility. Just because we get older does not mean we should stop learning new things. If we are prepared to be wrong sometimes, the light of truth will not hinder us when it shines in our direction, but rather it will help us reframe our way of thinking.

Chanukah, which just concluded this week, teaches us that we need to light our own Menorah. We can model ourselves after the Macabees and pursue and embrace light, and not wait for the floodlights to be cast in our direction.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence