Like Day and Night

Words to Live By

Within the human soul lies a Tabernacle, which like the sacred Tabernacle in the desert, must include both a cloud by day and a fire by night to remind us that life has moments of light and darkness, of happiness and agony.

By Rabbi YY Jacobson

They say that life has its ups and downs. It is not true. Life is ups and downs. Breathing, neurons and even money, everything has pulse, because everything is energy and energy oscillates in waves. To be something, everything should first become nothing. In the words of the Zohar “If you wish that a log ignite in flames, you must cut it. If you wish to ignite, you also need to crack, crumble the being, to be reborn.”

“Not every seed that rots is transformed into new life, and not every failure leads to victory.” For humans it’s a permanent choice. When choosing, the jump is not an exact measure but a quantum leap, not from a baby bear to a big bear, but a metarmorfosis: from an insect to a butterfly, from a seed to a majestic oak.

The Dual Canopy

On the day the Tabernacle was erected, the cloud covered the Tabernacle. Then, in the evening, there would be upon the Tabernacle like a fiery glow till morning.” “From then on it remained that way,” the Torah continues. “The cloud would cover it by day and a glow of fire by night.” Two points require clarification. First: What was the significance and purpose of this dual miraculous canopy that hovered over the Tabernacle in the desert, a cloud during the day and a glowing flame during the night? Second: Like every episode recorded in the Bible, this one, too, contains a spiritual interpretation that continuously plays itself out in journeys of the human spirit. How can we apply the story of this Tabernacle canopy to our lives today?

Smugness Vs. Despair

The Tabernacle was the edifice erected by the people of Israel in the Sinai desert to serve as a home for the Divine presence. In Jewish writings, the Tabernacle represents the place in the human heart where the light of G-d resides. The Tabernacle, then, exists timelessly within the human soul. This sacred and noble place within us, declares the Bible, must include both a cloud by day and a fire by night. Let us apply this practically: Each person experiences in his or her life “days” and “nights,” moments of light and moments of darkness, times of happiness and contentment as well as times of agony and turmoil. For some, the days are longer than the nights; for others the nights sadly exceed the days. Yet most humans possess a share of both realities. Now, when things are going well for us, when we’re paying the bills nicely, the kids are healthy, our spouses are there for us and we’re satisfied with our lot, we often forget how vulnerable we really are in this world. We tend to become smug, complacent and desensitized. We often become apathetic to other people’s pain. We don’t feel the need for genuine friendships, and certainly not for a relationship with G-d. We don’t feel the urgent need to be real. At moments of bliss people often feel that they are on top of the world and they do not need anybody. They forget their humaneness and simplicity. On the other hand, when things become difficult and painful, a loss in the family, illness of a loved one, a marriage goes sour, the bank is after us, our children are not doing well or we are overcome by inner mental or physical challenges, we often fall prey to feelings of despair and loneliness. We sink into the morass of life’s hardships, as we say to ourselves, “it’s dark and it’s getting darker.”

Maintain Perspective

If you are to become a human Tabernacle, if you wish to discover the grace of G-d within your heart, you must recall the darker cloud hovering above you even during times of brightness and splendor. A person must always remember that ultimately he cannot claim ownership over anything in his life: Life is a gift; love is a gift; parents are gifts and children are gifts. Financial success, too, is not a natural symptom of your brilliant investments; it is a gift. One ought never to become blind to the truth that everything can change in a single instance and that there is so much pain in the world. When you remember the clouds, you will never become arrogant, detached and false. On the other hand, when night falls upon us, when life exposes its painful and darker side to us, we need to recall the glowing light hovering above us. We must remember that every experience we endure is part of our life’s mission to serve G-d under these circumstances and to transform the world into a home for goodness and G-dliness. Every challenge contains an opportunity for deeper growth and for a deeper relationship with our soul and our G-d. Each cloud contains a flame within.

Judaism’s Mission Statement

This is the powerful significance behind the mitzvah, the Jewish tradition, to recite twice each day the Shema Yisroel, the most reverent Jewish prayer, once in the morning and once in the evening. When dawn breaks and the sun emerges to embrace us with its warmth, we state: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One.” Each of us is essentially a reflection of G-d, a recipient of His grace. When night falls and darkness makes its way into our lives, we once again declare: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One.” G-d is one means that the same G-d Who was present during the “day” is also present during the “night.” Darkness is painful and bitter, but it, too, must become part of a dynamic relationship with life and with G-d.