Title: Emerging from Darkness: Chanukah
By Rabbi Ahron Rapps
Mosaica Press, 160 pages
If you are looking for a sefer that will provide you with a quick vort on Chanukah, this is not the book for you. Emerging from Darkness is, rather, an in-depth journey into the idea of choshech (darkness). Starting with Creation, the author develops the theme that the concept of choshech is really rooted in light – light that is too powerful for us to grasp within this world. As such, from our perspective, the light is darkness. This is why we mention the creation of choshech in our morning davening. Darkness is not simply the absence of light; rather it is born out of a concerted effort to conceal light.
Rabbi Rapps continues by exploring man’s interaction with darkness. He speaks about the darkness that results from suffering and elaborates on the idea that darkness always precedes growth and how this theme is present in the seminal events in the history of Klal Yisroel. Avraham would never have been told by Hashem, “Lech Lecha,” had Avraham not first passed through the naturally obliterating crucible of Nimrod’s furnace. The entire Jewish nation had to be in a state where, by all rights, they should have been destroyed by Paroh’s army at the Yam Suf in order for them to emerge, reborn, and become the nation that would accept the Torah.
Forty years ago, I was a bachur learning in yeshiva in St. Louis when Rabbi Rapps joined the yeshiva as a maggid shiur. A few of us discovered his familiarity with the deeper concepts of Torah and after a lot of pestering he agreed to start teaching us Derech Hashem and then Ner Mitzvah, the Maharal’s work on Chanukah. I can still picture him in his first attempts at teaching these areas of Torah, making efforts to open our minds to a new way of thinking, and I’d like to believe that some of what he taught us made its way into this work.
This is not a book to take lightly and it is clear on every page that “he is revealing one tefach, and hiding two,” and I constantly found myself wanting more. This sefer can open your mind to many new concepts rooted in Chasidus, the Maharal and Pachad Yitzchok. If there is one thing I would have liked, it would be more references for quotes of the teachings from different commentators so that I could see them in context and gain a deeper appreciation for how their teachings shed light on the theme of choshech.
As the book progresses it moves to the process of emerging from darkness, as the author offers some fascinating insights into the concept of shirah, song. Basing himself on Rebbe Tzadok, he explains that the word shir is used in the Gemara to denote a circle, and that the singing results when the circle of our being is complete. This occurs when all of life’s experiences find their place in the circumference of the circle and we experience their completeness, and a joyful sense of fulfillment results.
The last few essays move from the focus on choshech to discuss other concepts of Chanukah. The chapter on the “Horn of the Ox” is a broad-ranging exposition of the symbolism of the phrase and the fundamental conflict between Yavan and Klal Yisroel.
Overall, Emerging from Darkness is a mind-opening and occasionally mind-blowing trip through the fundamental themes of Chanukah that I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to see what is happening beneath the surface of this holiday.