Where is the light?
There is no aspect of spring cleaning after a hard winter that is more satisfying than window washing. A half a bottle of Windex and a lot of paper towels later, the view of the world outside becomes clearer, brighter and in some way even lighter. Every swipe seems to wipe away a bit of sadness as the flecks and grime give way to enthusiastic manpower allowing greater light to enter. But when G-d said, “Let there be light,” was He talking about our windows? I dare posit a philosophical “Yes” as all physical manifestations are reflections of a higher world. They are the means through which we can learn more about G-d and our existence. The moral of the window-washing story is streak-free clear: When we clean up our acts, we let the light in.
We all know that beautiful things grow in the light, i.e., flowers, trees, fruit and children too. Yet, so many of us cling to the darkness, even with all its uncertainty and turmoil, because we find comfort there in the familiar blackness of doing things as usual, in retracing the tracks of our often catastrophic modus operandi. And though many feel locked in a perpetual "winter" as though summer and its healing warm rays will never come, they don't realize that they are the very ones blocking the light.
More often than not when lost in obscurity, even while flouting His rules, we question, “Where is G-d?," rather than question ourselves, “Where am I in relation to His light?” The sages teach us that sin sullies our souls and blocks us from being vessels for the G-dly light. We become so veiled and dirtied by sin that we can neither be, nor see, the light. Nothing beautiful can radiate in or out becomes we are such a mucky mess.
Before the first man, Adam, sinned, he was enveloped in a halo of light. But after the sin, the garment of “light” which cloaked him and radiated through his body was diminished and replaced by garments of skin. He reduced his soul to a state of opaqueness and concealment making it ever harder to recognize itself and its relationship to G-d. It is no coincidence that in Hebrew the word for “skin” and “light” are homonyms, or. The kabbalist known as Or ha-Ḥayyim teaches that when G-d turned the skin of Moses' face into light, He demonstrated that the process which had once turned light into skin was reversible and that man could be rehabilitated to the spiritual level he once enjoyed prior to the sin.
What is our job, great nobility that we are? We are the cleanup crew. But Windex won’t do the job to raise the shattered holy sparks which became dispersed in all things in this world through creation and Adam’s sin. G-d gave us the directives on how to clean our souls and bring the light (sparks) out of the dark places if we follow His Torah and make it our Torah. Interestingly, Einstein’s famous equation E = mc² teaches us that there is light in all things. G-d teaches us how to properly retrieve it. Each of the commandments cleanses us and elevates us and makes us worthy receptacles of G-d’s blessings and Light.
But if we don’t change our ways and clean ourselves up on our own, then G-d will send in the pressure washer. In this week’s Torah reading we read of all the 42 encampments (and backtracking) the Israelites set up and broke down during their 40 years of wandering. Not an easy, smoothly-paved road. But they created many of the bumps and hurdles by themselves by continually sinning and rebelling against G-d and Moses and failing the many tests G-d set before them. Each hardship and encampment through which the Israelites journeyed was a cleansing and served as a preparation for the gift of the Land of Israel. Do you personally really want to figuratively wander blindly for 40 years and wonder why your life resembles a man-made disaster zone that only G-d can repair? Or would you prefer to take matters into your own hands? Start keeping kosher, lighting Sabbath candles, pick up a book of Judaism, stop sinning and spinning in circles…just start cleaning up somewhere in your spiritual house.
Further proof that G-d cleans what He loves is that the Israelites are not commanded to merely meander into town and make friends with their new Canaanite neighbors. Rather, they are commanded to drive them all out of the land and destroy their structures of worship and idols. Before something G-dly can enter, before blessings can enter, our inner and outer “worlds” need to be cleaned. The Israelites are also warned, “And let the land not vomit you out for having defiled it, as it vomited out the nation that preceded you.”
It is interesting and tragic that we live in an age where every resource is available to humankind to enlighten it and yet it cannot see the light--or free the light. But friends, we are made in G-d’s image and so we have the power to radically change everything, personally and globally. If we would only clean our spiritual windows with the Word of G-d, we’d see how dramatically the stains of winter would abscond and how beautifully and powerfully the light would shine through.