10 Paths Out of Darkness


Sometimes our Torah speaks to us. Occasionally, when we find ourselves enveloped in darkness and pessimism, the Torah lights our path forward. That happened to me this morning.

As I studied our Torah portion for the Shabbat during Sukkot (Ex 33:12-34:26), I felt like I found a literary treasure map. In less than two chapters of Torah, we are given instructions on how to find light, joy, and renew a positive outlook. In other words, our Torah tells us how to find God. Here are ten ways.

Knowing Names (Ex 33:12)

Dale Carnegie famously teaches that “a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” God must’ve read How to Win Friends & Influence People because God tells Moses: ‘I have singled you out by name.’ Names are divine. Remembering not just the syllables that make up a person’s name, but making an effort to actually know a person and listen to their story. You know that person who you say hi to every day but don’t really know them? Take them out for coffee or tea or a beer. Ask them about their life.

Appreciating Those who lighten our burden (Ex. 33:14)

Sometimes life is hard. Like Moses, we don’t want to take that next step into uncertainty without assured support. We’re scared, we’re overworked, we’re vulnerable. Our family and friends and co-workers who offer us the support to put one foot in front of the other, offer us the strength of God. Next time you’re having a rough day, write a post-it-note of gratitude to someone in your life who lightens your burden.

The goodness in our lives (Ex 33:19)

We’ve heard since childhood: “It’s the little things in life.” Yet the little things are often the easiest to grow indifferent to. I love this image of Moses pleading with God to show him God’s presence, and God responding, “I will make all My goodness pass before you.” All day, God’s goodness passes before us, and for most of us, we ignore it. Instead, we should approach everything with the anticipation and amazement of Moses as God’s goodness passed before him.

Seclusion & “Me-Time” (Ex 34:2-3)

Alone time shouldn’t be viewed as a luxury. It should be viewed as a necessity. We all spend “Me-Time” a little differently: meditating, listening to music, exercising, reading, writing, thinking, reflecting. Any way you recharge alone is an opportunity to receive some divine sparks of illumination and sustenance.

Nature (Ex 34:5)

In 16th c. Amsterdam, Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated for saying things like, “God is nature.” It seems a little silly though, being as God is described in the Torah as literally being nature. Here we see God as a cloud–something most of us encounter every day. The question is do we meet nature with radical amazement or with utter indifference. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches that we should “...get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

cultivating the 13 Attributes of the divine within ourselves (34:6-7)

  • יְהוָה : compassion before a person sins;

    יְהוָה : compassion after a person has sinned;

  • אֵל El: mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need;

  • רַחוּם Rachum: merciful, that humankind may not be distressed;

    וְחַנּוּן VeChanun: and gracious even to those who do not deserve it, consoling the afflicted and raising up the oppressed;

  • אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם Erech appayim: slow to anger;

  • וְרַב-חֶסֶד VeRav chesed: and abundant in kindness;

  • וֶאֱמֶת VeEmet: and truthful;

  • נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים Notzer chesed laalafim: Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations;

  • נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן Noseh avon: forgiving intentional iniquity;

  • וָפֶשַׁע VaFeshah: and malicious transgression;

  • וְחַטָּאָה VeChata'ah: and sin committed out of carelessness, thoughtlessness, or apathy.

  • וְנַקֵּה VeNakeh: and cleanses, wiping away the sins of those who truly repent.

Those who keep us safe (Ex 34:11)

When tragedy strikes, it is easy to offer effusive praise to our police, firefighters, EMTs, soldiers, sailors, and volunteers. When we exist in a relative moment of peace and calm, it is easy to take those people for granted. Try this: Next time you see anyone in uniform, go thank them for their service.

Palaces in Time: Shabbat & Chagim (Ex. 34:18-23)

Chef Michael Solomonov writes that “Shabbat is the most important holiday in Judaism, yet it happens every week!” Our Torah impresses upon us the value of taking a day truly off: not checking emails, not burying our faces in our phones while surrounded by our most loved people, not doing chores and busywork. Most of us struggle with this in our hyper connected world that shames downtime and hypes efficiency and endless work. Next time you can, celebrate Shabbat or the next Jewish holiday with your phone on the charger, your eyes only focused on your loved ones, your belly full, your heart open. As Martin Buber teaches, we can only meet God (the Eternal Thou) when we are truly present.

Our Children

The Torah mentions first-borns belonging to God, but I think the 21st century teaching here is how children are divine delivery systems: their giggles, their toddling, their honesty, their cuddles, their love. Whether you are a teacher or a parent or an uncle or an aunt or a godparent, you know the indescribable feeling that munchkin provides. Next time you with them, don’t let that divine feeling pass without taking a moment to be grateful.

How we eat

When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the rabbis designated our home as a mikdash me’at–a tiny temple. The altar of our tiny temple became our kitchen table. Our Sukkot parsha ends with a familiar verse: “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” While many modern Jews no longer keep the laws of kashrut, food is no less important in our tradition. Eating is fundamental: we need it to survive, we do it every day, and most of us take it for granted. One of Rabbi Joshua Bolton’s One Hundred Suggestions For Seekers And Spiritual Activists is “Don’t worry about what people will think about you if you pause to offer (audible) praise for the food you are about to eat.” For the next week, try to say a blessing/word of gratitude over every meal you have in thanks to something larger than yourself for the blessing of food that sustains you.

So in a dark week, let the Torah guide you toward the light. As is so often the case, so much light is right in front of our eyes–if only we open them.

Shabbat Shalom!

Alex KressComment