‘’Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
and the response
Falls the Shadow’
’ T. S. Eliot, The Hollow men
The shadow is not necessarily a negative form of the light, we have the liberty and the ability to interpret it in different ways.
The shadow can simply be the opposite of the light, in this case it is complementary. That is the antechamber of creation. It is this way that I understand these verses of T. S. Eliot. This is the darkroom of the development of our thoughts that emerge under the light in a more or less rapid pace. It is a room full of our dreams and concerns. It is the time required to give action a shape, it could be an interval or extra time to make a decision. The immediate power of creation is only the privilege of God. But before God’s decision, obviously we do not know how long the Eternal One took to decide to create the Heavens and the Earth. Before the earth was “unformed and void with darkness over the surface of the deep’’1 . God made the decision in the darkness when the earth was tohu vavohu .
Who are we? We are humans and we need time to achieve and pursue our own projects. There is a gap between our resolutions and completion dates. At times we are able to promptly make a wise choice; sometimes we keep running around in circles with our thoughts and our draft designs. Nightime, the time of darkness is a precious gift for rest and sleep.
Nevertheless, during night and sleep we are not inactive. Scientists have shown that our brains are active in the course of the different stages of our rest. The brain selects and filters information we have gained during the day, and prepares us to act and make decisions. Sleep organises our memories because our brain consolidate our learning and creates new memories. Perhaps it is one of the reasons we have the mitzvah of reciting the Shema each night before we go to sleep, as we are commanded to do in the first paragraph. The first paragraph we read in parashat Va’etchanan reminds us of God’s words2 .
God proposes an innovative model where we are involved and asks us to accomplish mitzvot day and at night. Our sleep provides us with the energy to review and update our actions.. We can then refresh our memory and evaluate our experiences of the day.
During the night, in the shadows, the antechamber of our creation stretches and narrows gradually, according to the evolution of our needs.
Is it so hard to fulfil the commandments that we need the repetition each night and day? Is it the so-called yoke of the Torah? It means that Torah serves different purposes, a historical reminder, a way of life, a culture and even an ethical project. We are committed to renew each day with the Revelation of God’s words.
What are the procedures and the methods for fulfilling God’s mitzvot? I am afraid we do not have the methods, only some clues and guidelines. For example, the mitzvah to love God in the first paragraph of the Shema. How will we love God and know that we love God? The verse offers different ways to do it: you shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might’’3 . Rashi gives us some interpretations: We will love God with our two inclinations or with our whole heart, (even if God takes our soul), and with all our wealth, or however God will reward us. It means we have to continually interpret and comment upon the words of Torah. We cannot forget it. It is a strong commitment with the Torah, with God and with all our partners in life: parents, teachers, friends, all the people around us.
We learn in the shadow of the night when we sleep. We learn to take time to absorb, to assimilate information and to keep the more consistent teaching. In other words we adapt our vision and goals according to each new situation we have to deal with. To accomplish this, we need not only time but also training and repetition
Adaptation and time are central to our lives. We cannot make choices without them to shape our ideas and keep them in proportion.
Here is a story from Chelm:
‘’Tomorrow he will not have time’’:
One day, somebody asked an inhabitant of Chelm:
“Where are you running to so fast?” “To the train station. My father is coming tomorrow morning, I have to pick him up at the station”. “But if he is only arriving tomorrow, why are you going to the station today?” asked the other inhabitant, astonished. “ Because tomorrow it is the first day of the fair and I know I will be busy all day”.
Thank you to the rabbis, the storytellers and people who are able to relate and keep stories.
For any emergency or normal situation, we try to find the best solution. This inhabitant tried his best to accomplish the mitzvah to which he felt obligated. He plays for time and anticipates. He would like to succeed and hopes his father will be there.
We are able to accomplish many surprising and different plans, it is the strength of our minds and our will. We need commitment, time and imagination. The ritual of saying the Shema is a way to remind us and to renew it.
We repeat the Shema at night but also in the morning. A midrash4 explains that we were sleeping when we received the Torah and we had to be woken up. Perhaps we were sleeping because we were already learning the Shema. We were already learning the words of God in the shadow of our minds.
Yaera Ratel First year student rabbi
1 Bereshit 1:2 Translation: sefaria.org
2 Devarim 6: 4-9
3 Devarim 6:5. Translation: Sefaria.org
4 Midrash Rabbah
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.