From The Rabbi’s Study: January 2020

In this season of darkness and light, of ends and beginnings, I send you my heartfelt wishes for continued and increased light, warmth, and inspiration throughout 2020. We are in the midst of a season characterized by the least amount of daylight in our calendar year, and beyond the seasonal darkness, there is much human-generated and exacerbated darkness around us. At the same time, we, here, have sought to reinforce and spread a renewed sense of community, solidarity, and hope beginning with the celebration of Hanukkah last month – to kindle and share light. Our community is a source of light; growing and disseminating light is our mission and purpose, and all the more so into 2020.

This time one hundred years ago, January of 1920, was also characterized by a challenging mix of darkness and light. On the one hand, within weeks of each other, a notable german edition as well as two english editions of the profoundly anti-Semitic, forged, “Protocols of the elders of zion” appeared. The so called “Protocols” generated significant attention and interest, and starting in May of 1920, excerpts of this hateful book were published serially in Henry Ford’s The Dearborn Independent, helping fuel both hatred and fear of Jews throughout this country and beyond it. It bears noting that the forgery of “The protocols of the Elders of Zion” was discovered and exposed as early as 1921. However, the translation, publication, and dissemination of this book continued unabated, and helped promote anti-Semitism throughout the world. On the other hand, January 1920 marked the establishment and first meeting of the league of nations, a new international organization that was formed to prevent war (following World War I) and open a new page in international relations. This moment also constituted a milestone in the international community’s recognition of the effort to establish a Jewish homeland in the land of Israel. Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations (which came into force in January 1920) would be the instrument for the international mandate to Britain’s administration of Palestine.

The Talmud records a rabbinic discussion about the world’s redemption. in it the rabbis ask whether redemption would come in darkness or in light (in Tractate Sanhedrin 98b). Rav Simlai recalls the verse “Oh, you who desire the day of the lord! What is the day of the lord to you? it is darkness and not light!” (amos 5:18), and yet Rabbi Abbahu cites Isaiah’s inspiring verses: “Rise, shine, for your light has arrived, and the dignity of the lord has been cast upon you; Behold, darkness shall cover the land, and fog the nations, but upon you the lord will shine, and radiance divine shall be visible upon you” (Isaiah 60:1-2). in short, the Sages of the Talmud recognize that we must be prepared to experience darkness, and remain hopeful, attune to the prospect of redemption. We must be open to light, ready to receive it, nourish it, and in turn to spread it as we seek to repair and heal our community and world, awaiting redemption, understanding that it may start in rays of light in the midst of darkness.

Whatever darkness we witness and experience around us, whether it is in the re-growing scourge of antisemitism, the increasingly bold manifestations of racism and hatred, inequality, and degradation, or the polarization and distrust that increasingly characterize our society, we must not and may not lose hope, nor relinquish our responsibility to promote and spread light. Our liturgy includes a blessing of God for the shaping of light and creation of darkness. In it we recognize the divine as the source of light shining upon the earth and all who dwell on it, as well as the ongoing renewal of creation. Towards its conclusion, we call upon God: “Shine a new light upon Zion, that we all may swiftly merit its radiance.” Throughout the generations, a number of rabbis expressed discomfort with the notion of “new light,” arguing that the light we experience is the very same light that has been our blessing from the moment of creation. And yet, our re-discovery of light may render it new and invigorating in our lives. May we all experience, grow, and spread great lights throughout this season and the coming year. May we recognize the lights of transcendence, truth, and justice, and may we radiate with the excitement of increased energy and new-found passion as our lights shine.

May 2020 be a year of blessing for all of us, and for those we touch.

With all good wishes,
Rabbi Jonathan Cohen