Sunday, December 21, was the official “winter solstice” – aka the shortest day of the year. Although summer isn’t quite yet around the corner, we have already lived through the greatest darkness. It was no coincidence that this took place during Chanukah. At the end of the month of Kislev, as the moon is at its smallest phase and the nights are so very long, we dared to light the menorah and demonstrate that God’s light is with us, even at the bleakest moment.
Being that Chanukah has now passed, we owe it to ourselves to ask, “Was there a message that can help get us through the cold winter months ahead?”
Picture the perfect day. It’s warm and sunny. You wake up well rested and give heartfelt thanks to God for restoring your special neshamah (soul). You begin the day with sincere prayer and inspirational Torah study. You are both productive and diligent at work while finding deep meaning and connection in everything you do and face.
When was the last time you actually had a day like that? Doesn’t the cold weather oftentimes seem to reflect how we feel deep down? Stuff comes up and it’s hard for us to focus. Life can make us utterly numb.
One of Rebbe Nachman’s basic teachings is the concept of yeridah tachlit aliyah (falling for the purpose of rising). This means that although we perceive we are spiritually falling, in actuality we are being prepared for our future spiritual ascent.
In this week’s parashah,Jacob has suffered for many years because he was under the impression that his beloved son Joseph had died. One day he receives word that reveals he’s been mistaken all this time. Joseph is alive and well, and is viceroy of Egypt! Jacob is jubilant, and desires to see his son immediately.
But he is also afraid. For Joseph lives in Egypt while Jacob resides in the Land of Israel. The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim (constrictions), alluding to the bitter constraints of the exile. It is a place of darkness, a cloudy and cold place. Since hearing the good news, Jacob has been overjoyed and the prophecy that left him because of his depressed state has been restored. How can he now go “down” to Egypt? God assures him, “I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back up” (Genesis 46:4).
God is always with us, even when we feel that we are distant. Wherever a Jew goes, God comes too. Perhaps to us it looks like a cold and cloudy day, but we fail to see the sun behind the clouds. Only God knows what is best for us, and that what we perceive to be bitter and painful is actually therapeutic and healthy.
Moreover, God does not conceal Himself even for one extra second. Just as the moon, at its darkest moment, is really renewing itself so that it can wax full and bright in the nighttime sky again, so God acts with us. We think that it is too late, that things are too difficult, that we’ve made too many mistakes and the day has already been wasting. Don’t throw in the towel! Hold on just a little bit longer and you will discover that God has been with you the entire time, and that all of your difficulties were only paving the way for incredible spiritual growth and inner meaning. After all, we have already experienced the greatest darkness, and God was right there with us!
Based on Likutey Halakhot V, p. 286-144a-288