This Thanksgiving afternoon (probably too late in the afternoon as you’ll soon see) I took the three youngest out for a walk/hike in a nature preserve not too far away, the Schiffendecker Farm Preserve off Bender Lane in Glenmont/Delmar, between Routes 32 and the 9W. We’ve never been out there in this nature preserve before. The trail is easy enough, but has slippery mud in parts and while not too steep it goes up and down quite a bit. We walked the yellow trail to the blue, and took the blue trail to the red, and then it started to get dark fast. We had to get out of that forest before nightfall!
Thankfully we did, but just barely. And it made me think of old Chassidic stories set in dark Russian forests, and it made me think of how hard it can be to find your way out of a life’s wooded spaces without light.
Now and then we can each find ourselves deep in a thicket, in an indistinct space, a wild wood. We can be lost down paths we’re not familiar with. Sometimes our minds and hearts have us zigzagging and stumbling, mistaking paths for each other, confusing entries and exits and making choices on faulty or mistaken notions. We can lose direction, lose sense of place, lose sight of our goal and end up meandering in circles or falling into holes. Darkness falling makes everything more of challenge if not nearly impossible.
In situations like these, light is so important. It allows us to see, we can find the trail markers, we can know path from ravine, it helps us see the roots hiding in the thick carpet of fallen leaves. Without light all of this becomes a blur, or worse a sameness, nothing is distinct.
Our sages compare Torah to light, and more specifically Chassidus uses that metaphor a lot, too. In situations like these, we can use this light for ourselves, and also help be that light for others. And let’s try to get out of the forest while its still light, and not leave it cutting it so close as we did!
This year (2021) Thanksgiving Weekend ends as Chanukah begins, so this message about cherishing light and the dangers of its absence are all the more relevant. May we all continue to increase in light, for ourselves, our families and friends, our communities and the world around us. As the Jewish saying goes (we have this inscribed on our candle-lighting table at Shabbos House) “A little light dispels much darkness” and as we all know: the more, the merrier!