On Sunday evening, January 27, Mr. Harry Rothenberg, Esq., spoke on behalf of Chazaq and Emet Outreach at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, the rav of the shul, introduced the speaker.
Mr. Rothenberg focused on the theme of light in the Tanach. He noted that some of the words that we recite in Havdalah are originally from Megillas Esther. We say that the Yehudim should have light, gladness, and honor. He then shared that when there was the Plague of Darkness, the Jews had light and the Egyptians had darkness. According to Rashi, there were two distinct times of darkness during the Plague of Darkness. During the first three days, people couldn’t see, and during the next three days they couldn’t even move. It was a different type of darkness. He pointed out that when the angels came to save Lot, and the Sodomites wanted to get to Lot in his house, Hashem made the Sodomites blind, and it was a blindness that was immobilizing. This is learned because it says that they tried to find the opening of the door and they exhausted themselves. He then pointed out that the first time we see light in the Torah is in the Creation story when Hashem says, “Let there be light” and the Torah says that He saw that it was good. Rashi explains that He saw that it was too good, so He took the light and hid it away for the righteous in the World to Come.
Another reference to light is when Moshe was born. His mother Yocheved sees that he is “ki tov,” and Rashi says that this same phrase was for the original light. When he was born, the room filled with light. Rashi teaches that it was lit with the original light, and this was symbolic that Moshe would bring down the original light to this world. He taught that after Moshe went up to receive the Torah, he came down with rays of light emanating from his head, and he had to wear a mask to shield the light. Rashi explained that Uriel is the angel of the light of Torah. The light of Torah represents faith, clarity, and hope.
He then pointed out that when we light Chanukah candles, we are supposed to hold the candle a little longer by the flame to symbolize that the only flame we stoke in this house is the flame of Torah, faith, and hope. “We don’t want the flames of friction or jealousy. We only want to stoke the light of Torah.”
He noted, “You can light a person’s day with a compliment. For the same price, you can ruin someone’s day or make his day.” He went on to teach: “We are supposed to be a light unto the nations. We have to be careful because people are watching us.” We must be careful not to perform a chilul Hashem.
He then taught that in the Sh’moneh Esrei we say Amein to every blessing but the Modim. For Modim, everybody thanks Hashem individually. You can’t rely on someone else to thank G-d for you. He continued, “We have to be careful to say thank you. We have to try to turn darkness into light. We need to find light in darkness.”
He said that, every night, G-d leaves a note under your pillow that essentially says I know you had a hard day; I love you. He emphasized: “We have to know that we don’t know why things happen, but everything is from G-d. All we know is He loves us more than anybody and whatever happens took place for a reason. We don’t know why.” He noted that the Hebrew word for why is lamah, which means “for what [purpose]?” That is the only question we can ask. “What am I supposed to learn from a given situation? I need to try to figure out the best I can what I’m supposed to do in a situation.” He shared that in our lives we go through times of light and darkness. He taught that when things are going well, try not to squander light and turn it to darkness.
This lecture can be viewed on Torahanytime.com.
By Susie Garber