Sometimes everything comes at once, and sometimes the natural world can provide you with a perfect metaphor for viewing it all. Today we will experience darkness at midday. In a rare solar eclipse, the moon will temporarily block the sun and daytime will look like night. Our tradition talks a lot about G-d’s power to create light and darkness and to separate the two. We read it in B’reishit, and we mention it in evening prayers. Jewish thought is a constant project of joining things which belong together and separating – making havdalah – those things which are distinct from one another. So when the sun and the moon appear so close in the sky that one crowds the other out, it warrants attention.
There could hardly be a more exact image for what we are experiencing as a nation. Dark forces are gathering on the ground and in the highest offices of government. White supremacists have removed their hoods and are unabashedly practicing intimidation. They get away with behavior that was once considered shameful, and they get away with it partly because the president himself equivocates as to the appropriateness of their actions. I have heard it said over and over, and I feel it myself: I never imagined that Nazis would openly demonstrate in American cities and not be unambiguously condemned. It is hard to fathom. Alongside friends from many communities, I go about my daily work in a state of disorientation. How did we come to this? How did it happen so quickly? Where will it end?
Yet there is also light. There always is. Even amidst the awful events of Charlottesville a week an a half ago, there were people who lent their support to the Jewish community there, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with security guards to protect the synagogue and praying alongside members of the shul. And here in Boston, over this weekend just past, we saw an astounding turnout – more counter-protest than protest – that turned back the forces of white supremacy. Their so-called free speech rally, a thinly-veiled show of white supremacist force, withered in the daylight, as tens of thousands peacefully demonstrated their commitment to diversity, acceptance, and kindness.
The partial eclipse we will see in Boston is the very picture of how our city refracts the national mood. The darkness is still there, but more than a little light will peek out. Though day feels like it is becoming night, the transformation will not be complete. We know that the white supremacist movement is out there, and that they think the guy in the White House is their guy, but those who would defend civil rights, women’s rights, human rights are still here, still fighting, and still determined not to see the nation fall prey to dark forces.
That tonight is Rosh Chodesh Elul merely sweetens the metaphor. In Elul, we turn inward and prepare ourselves for the refiner’s fire of the chaggim. Elul is a month of soul-searching, of peeling away the layers of excesses and irrelevancies to see what we are made of and what matters to us. What a perfect time to be doing so. (It always is!) As we make the transition from one year to the next and engage deeply in t’shuvah, we have the opportunity to examine our own assumptions, our privileges, and the ways in which we can redouble our efforts serve others with more love.
In Jewish tradition, our days begin in darkness. As darkness falls in the middle of the afternoon today – and then dissipates – let us all ask ourselves the urgent questions. What do we want from this new day? What can we do to bring about the change we wish to see in the world? In this moment, the forces of darkness are attempting to crowd out the light. The world needs you (yes, you!) to bring your mightiest effort to dispelling the darkness. Reach out to others in sincerity and humility. Be there for those who are in need, and allow for the possibility of t’shuvah, in yourself and in others.
With each day, this task becomes more urgent. A day like today – a day that starts twice – is the perfect moment to begin.