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September 23, 2014 / 28 Elul, 5774
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Embracing The Light


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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.

There is a parable of a man in his early 40s who lost the use of his legs.  One day, during his stay at a rehab facility, his nurse wheeled him to an outdoor balcony overlooking a park adjacent to the hospital grounds.

She put him next to another wheelchair bound fellow who looked to be his age.  He mumbled a quick hello to the other patient, and immediately directed his attention to the park. Suddenly, he pointed agitatedly to a man who was running on a path on the park’s perimeter.

“Look at that,” the man shouted angrily to his companion. “You see that jogger running like the wind?  Can’t say for sure, but he must be older than us. I can tell that his hair is gray and his legs look kind of spindly. What do you think?”

When the other patient said nothing, the man continued talking, anger and resentment pouring out of him like sweat. “Hey wake up; I’m talking about the guy running over there, just past the rose bush to our left.  The guy in the navy shorts and orange tee shirt with that bird in the middle – I think it’s an eagle emblem. He just rounded the curve and ran past the tall blond lady pushing that double stroller with those babies inside. Probably twins.

“It’s so unfair.  We must be at least a decade younger than him and not only can he walk – he can run!  Here we are a pair of helpless cripples, stuck in wheelchairs, and he is old! Why us and not him?   He must be at least 60!   I should have been killed in that accident.  My life is over anyhow.”

When his companion offered no comment, the man turned to him in exasperation, and his voice saturated in sarcasm snarled, “What’s the matter with you? Are you deaf?”

The other patient turned his face, eyes hidden under oversized sunglasses, and said in a soft, quiet voice, “No, I’m blind.”

In Pirkei Avot our Sages rhetorically asked, “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot” (Avot 4:1).  In other words he who has accepted and made peace with what he has. The flip side to this statement arguably would be, “Who is poor? He who is unhappy with his lot. The person who feels cheated, deprived and lacking.

The Talmud likens poor people to the dead. Thus, those who are bitter about their status quo can be considered the same, as they do not enjoy their life.

Misery is the byproduct of a chronic inability to appreciate or recognize that which is good in one’s life. Chronically miserable, critical people are, to their detriment, oblivious to their G-d-given blessings and abilities.  They undermine the quality of their lives with their unappreciative, morose attitude.

The handicapped man in the story was bitter about his inability to walk, but oblivious of the gift of his sight, taking it completely for granted.

Those fortunate few who never lost power were still able to get a reality check and appreciate their ability to continue their day-to-day activities because of their peers who were plunged into darkness during the storm.

Likewise, those noble souls who chronically suffer and endure so much, make it possible for the rest of us to tolerate our own burdens by enhancing our hakarat hatov for the positive in our lives.

When they reach 120, the doors of Shamayim will fly open for them.

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