“Light at the end of the tunnel”
By Rabbi Lisa Bock, ’12
Do you know that the phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” is an idiom, lyrics of a song, part of a joke, and the title of essays and books?
“Light at the end of the tunnel” illustrates that sense of hope for freedom, completion, and ending — a successful conclusion to what moments before had seemed an endless stream of hard work or struggle. This hard work or struggle is characterized by darkness and even narrowness, where choice and options have been unavailable, limited, ignored, or simply not seen. How do we begin to see this light at the end of the tunnel? Is this something we wait for, passively? Is there a switch that we can turn on?
In this week’s parshah, G-d sends the last three plagues upon Egypt. The first of these last three is locusts, which eat the remaining vegetation that was not destroyed by the hail. When the locusts arrive, they arrive in such numbers that the land darkens. This same word, חשך, hoshech, describes the next to the last plague, darkness. The plague of darkness that fell upon the Egyptians was of such darkness that it was touchable; it was a darkness that could be felt. The parshah says that this darkness enveloped the Egyptians for three days.
Darkness can simply mean it was dark, as the sky darkens when the sun goes down, or how a room darkens when the lights are turned off. Our lives can also darken when we experience a loss of choice, freedom, companionship, or loss of meaningful work. The Israelites had lost their freedom, lost their ability to worship HaShem, and in this way, had lived in darkness as slaves to pharaoh for three hundred years. As a slave, each day would bring the same endless stream of work, with the next day offering more of the same. The next day would look like the previous, with no hope for change. Mitzrayim was indeed, this narrow, dark place, a tunnel.
Then came the final plague, the slaying of the firstborn of the Egyptians. This, a final darkness for pharaoh and the Egyptians, would be irreversible and unstoppable. In preparation for this final plague, HaShem instructs the Israelites to mark their doorposts with the blood of the lamb, their Passover offering, so that this would be a sign of an Israelite’s home and, as such, the Angel of Death (under the guidance of HaShem) would pass over their home and the plague not touch them. Wouldn’t HaShem know which home was Israelite and which was Egyptian?
Sefat Emet has a wonderful answer to this question. He says that the Exodus from Egypt was just the beginning of the Israelite’s service to G-d. The willingness and choice to serve HaShem would be evident in their applying the blood to their doorposts. This becomes the very beginning of the relationship between the Israelites and HaShem that leads the way to them receiving the Torah. The Israelites had to follow the instruction, and do the action and this was the evidence of their willingness to serve HaShem. It was their own action by following HaShem’s instruction, and putting the blood on their doorposts, that turned on that light, and thus when they emerged from their doorways, it was to freedom. Their action of following HaShem’s instruction was the switch that turned the light on at the end of their tunnel, and began their journey from the darkness and narrowness of slavery into the light, spaciousness of a future, and hope.
In Psalms 18:29, King David says, “It is You who light my lamp; the LORD, my
G-d, lights up my darkness.”
It is through our own observance of mitzvoth, study of Torah, prayer, the work of our hands and our hearts that we turn on the switch, and bring light into the world.