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Home » Noach

Noach: Eternal Rays of Light

Submitted by on November 2, 2005 – 3:32 pmNo Comment | 1,152 views

The Sunset

Several days ago, I sat with my family at the shores of Lake Huron enjoying a picturesque sunset. The sun descended over the water in a spectacular ball of fire and painted the cloudless sky in deep hues of purple and red. Enchanted by the majesty of the moment, my daughter quietly asked, “Will there be a splash when it falls into the lake?”

I explained that the sun wouldn’t actually descend into the lake it would simply dip below the horizon. Night would fall in Ontario but the sun would continue to shine over  provinces and countries due west of us.

Musings of a Child’s Mind

I thought about how difficult it must be for a child to understand such complexity. She saw the sun fall into the lake and as far as she knew, waters extinguish fire. Then she was told that the sun somehow slipped in behind the lake rather than drowned within it!

The second part of my explanation must have been even more perplexing. Night had fallen and we were enveloped by darkness, yet she was told that the sun continued to shine and that skies elsewhere were ablaze with cheerful rays of light!

At that moment I thought of King Solomon and how he addressed these concerns in  a manner that is relevant to our generation. King Solomon wrote that “Great waters cannot extinguish love” (1) and “The sun rises and sets but on the morrow it will rise again.” (2)

Water cannot Extinguish Love

Within every Jewish soul rages a fire of love for G-d. When our conscience is flooded by the riptides of assimilation, these passionate flames are subdued, but deep within our hearts, in chambers heavily concealed, the embers of these flames continue to smolder.

The flood waters of assimilation seem at times to encompass and even extinguish this fire as the lake seemed in my daughter’s eyes to encompass and drown the setting sun, but the sun didn’t drown. eternal rays of light - innerstreamIt was merely concealed. The next day she saw the sun rise again, and when it did, its rays glistened upon the lake and inspired a new morning with fresh beauty.

This is what King Solomon meant when he wrote that “Great waters cannot extinguish the love.” The waters of assimilation and the storms of persecution cannot wrest us from our embrace with G-d. The allure of materialism coupled with the perils of suffering can temper our love and cause the flames to temporarily recede, but the embers will one day flare up again and, when they do, they will bathe our souls in the glow of love. (3)

The Sun Rises and Sets but on the Morrow it will Rise Again.

Our sages explained this verse in reference to Jewish history. Our history comprises a tale of sunrises and sunsets. “Before the sun sets upon one generation it rises upon the next. On the day Sarah passed on, Rebbecca was born. Before the sun set upon Moses, it rose upon Joshua. On the day Rabbi Akiba passed on, Rabbi Yehudah was born.” (4)

This trend continued in the post-Talmudic era. After the passing of Rabbi Yehudah, the focus of Torah study shifted from Israel, where Rabbi Yehudah lived, to Babylon. Students from communities across the globe migrated to Babylon to study in the great Babylonian academies of Sura and Pumbedita.

When the illustrious Reb Sadya Gaon passed on, the Babylonian academies were weakened. These academies were the only viable centers of Torah study for nearly six centuries, but just as their doors were closing, new academies sprung up almost overnight.

Jewish history tells a tale of four Babylonian Torah scholars who were taken captive on the high seas and ransomed to fledgling Jewish communities in Egypt, North Africa, Morocco and Spain. What had seemed like a tragedy at the outset was, in hindsight, nothing short of  miraculous.

These rabbis established reputable Torah academies in their new communities, and when the great Babylonian academies fell into decline, the new academies were in a position to offer credible alternatives. Once again, the sun rose on a new generation even before it had set on the previous one. (5)

History of Sunsets

On many occasions the nations of the world have had cause to assume that the sun had indeed set upon our people. Nebuchadnetzer of Babylon thought so when his armies battered the walls of Jerusalem, torched the temple and exiled our people.

Haman of Persia thought so when he secured a royal verdict to annihilate the Jewish nation. Antiochus of Syria thought so when he outlawed Jewish practice and succeeded in winning over a great number of Jews to Hellenism. Titus and later Hadrian of Rome thought so when they conquered Judea and flattened Jerusalem.

Ferdinand of Spain thought so when he expelled the Jews from Spain and prohibited observance of Jewish ritual. Bogdan Chmelinitzki thought so when his mobs led bloody pogroms across Eastern Europe. Hitler thought so when he attempted to “solve the Jewish question.” Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is currently building a nuclear arsenal, thought so when only last week he called for the destruction of Israel.

My Daughter’s Fears

Every so often our sun appears to set, but despite the gathering clouds and impending doom, our sun continues to shine. It may temporarily slip below the horizon while the forces of darkness converge but dawn always prevails, our sun always rises and the gathering gloom is always dispersed.

My daughter had no cause to fear for even as night fell and darkness descended, she could rest assured that the sun would continue to shine. We, the Jewish people, are G-d’s little children and we, too, have no cause to fear for even when our sun dips below the horizon we may rest assured that soon, very soon, we will rise and shine again.

Footnotes

  1. Song of Songs 8: 7.
  2. Ecclesiastics 1: 5.
  3. Shir Hashirim Rabbah, ibid. The Midrash speaks of G-d’s love for the Jewish people. However, Chassidic thought quotes the Kabbalistic explanation found in the Zohar that this verse relates to the love of Jews for G-d. For further information see Ohr Hatorah, p. 16. For a resolution of the apparent conflict between these two interpretations, see Sefer Hamamaarim 5717, p. 41.
  4. Koheles Rabba 1: 5. For more information on the characters mentioned in this quote, go to http://www.chabad.org/library/archive/LibraryArchive.asp?AID=111828
  5. Sefer hakabbalah (R. Abraham Ibn Daud, Toledo, 1110-1180.
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