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If You Will It, It Is No Dream

There is an odd passage in the Passover Haggadah in which we learn of Rabbi Akiva and others telling and retelling the Exodus from Egypt until the dawn breaks. Their students then come and tell them it is time to say the Sh’ma for daybreak, at which point they conclude their Seder. What does it mean that they stayed up all night?

I believe the night symbolizes the darkness of Exile. Exile is the time of the imperfect world, the world of darkness, in which study and Jewish legends can be a refuge of hope. By telling and retelling these legends, they are reminding themselves of God’s hand in redemption. It is a practice to hold off the darkness and to wait for the light.

The darkness also symbolizes the way the world can damage us. When we have power, we can forget to use it with restraint and wisdom. The world of politics can corrupt and damage us. By creating a practice of study in the darkness Judaism demands that we become experts in ethics so that at daybreak we will be ready to act in ways that are whole and holy.

For we know the day will break. Jews are a people of hope. We dream and imagine and work to make the world a better place. Deep in the Jewish psyche is a sense that the world is out of balance and that we have a God given task to restore that which is broken. We have a communal sense that human action can make the world around us better and more loving.

Right now, we are in the deepest darkness. Violence has been unleashed. We are caught in a story of seemingly endless war. In such a place, it is hard to imagine the dawn. We cannot see past the conflict and feel trapped in the darkness. I worry that neither Israelis nor Americans have thought about what happens when the shooting ends to build something more stable.

Yet I remind you: four years after the Yom Kippur war, Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem, inaugurating a new era for Israel and the Arab world. There are a lot of possibilities of what the future can hold. Now is a moment to remember the power of prayer and reflection which helps us settle, which restores hope, and opens our creativity.

I also remind you: we all too easily give up on our own agency in the face of such great events. Yet we remain powerful in certain spheres. I believe we need to leave ourselves time to pray for how we can help. What are the charities that can benefit from our donations? Are there places to volunteer? Are there other ways that we can inspired to be a source of blessing and love in our own circles? Once we begin to see our agency, the ways we can help bring light into the darkness, we start to realize new such avenues.

I don’t see the way into the light. I don’t know what will happen after this conflict. Yet I believe that God can open doors and possibilities that we can’t even imagine. We need to hold onto each other, hold onto our traditions and practices, and together await the dawn. May it come soon and speedily.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Booth

Sat, December 9 2023 26 Kislev 5784