Over the last few weeks many of us in North America – and in Eretz Yisrael – suffered disruption of our electric power as a result of the structural damage caused by the ferocious fury of extraordinary ice and snow storms.
Many old-timers insist that they never experienced the kind of destructive and life-threatening winter weather that has disturbed and disordered so many lives.
For quite a few days in late December, Toronto was transformed into a breathtaking – literally and figuratively – frigid winter wonderland, where every twig, leaf, car door, and outdoor wire and cable was totally encased in ice. When the sun shone the landscape was blindingly brilliant as if billions of diamonds had been glued to everything the eye could see.
Unfortunately, for hundreds of thousands of people, the popsicle-like branches of trees succumbed to the icy heaviness that weighed them down and broke them. An avalanche of limbs crashed onto the ground, pulling down the power-conducting wires hanging below them.
Most of the city was plunged into darkness, and since most of the furnaces, water heaters, stoves and ovens in this city run on electricity – as opposed to gas – there was no way of heating the house or cooking. People who had flashlights (with working batteries) and candles were able to dispel the darkness somewhat. Those who do bedikat chametz on Erev Pesach can visualize just how thick the surrounding darkness was beyond the candle in front of them.
After what seemed like endless days and nights, the lights came back on and with it the ability to do normal things – take a shower, brew hot coffee, and eat a home-cooked meal. It also meant being able to communicate again via cordless or cell phones (many did not work during the blackout) and reconnect via radio and Internet.
Having electricity is akin to breathing. You mindlessly flick a switch – like you mindlessly inhale – and receive abilities and benefits that make your existence viable. Power allows you to wash your clothes, to get in touch with people who are miles away, to be productive after the sun sets. (Many of us ended up going to sleep hours earlier than usual. Without light, what else was there to do?)
It’s amazing how we take the status quo for granted – until it is taken away. Even saying Modeh Ani when we wake, or Asher Yatzar after we go to the bathroom is usually done by rote, without a second thought to what it means.
This time, we instantly developed an extreme appreciation for the light when it came back into our lives.
When life returned to normal, and we shared our “war” stories of the inconvenience, displacement and hassles we endured while being without light and heat, many of us reached a “light bulb” moment (like in the cartoons when someone gets a brilliant idea). After dark days of griping, complaining and grumbling about cancelled Shabbat meals, flights and school, ruined food that had thawed in non-working freezers, navigating slippery sidewalks and roads, some of us gained insight into a rather elusive question: Why bad things happen to nice people/communities.
The loss of power and its return “enlightened” us as to why people get sick; are in pain; are disabled, have financial or social setbacks, or are beset and afflicted with other “gehakte tzurus” (major difficulties or traumas): Because you need darkness in order to appreciate light. You need loss to appreciate what you do have. You need emptiness in order to recognize fullness. You need chaos to appreciate the quiet.
Or you need others to be in unfortunate situations in order to be sameach with your own cheilek – to open your eyes to what you have and acknowledge the blessings that you are oblivious and mindless of, like inhaling and breathing on your own.