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Our Rosh Hashanah Blackout

Our Rosh Hashanah Blackout

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Rome, Italy, September 28, 2003, 3:15 AM

My toddler son wakes up crying, he has a bad cold and is quite uncomfortable. As I sleepily hold him and try to comfort him, it starts to rain; a few minutes later the lights go off. I notice that there was no popping sound which would indicate that there has been a short circuit in our apartment; I assume that the lights went out because of the rain (that could happen in this city), as there is no light coming from the street lamps nor from the surrounding buildings. Whatever the reason, it is literally pitch black, I cannot see anything, I am holding my son in my arms but cannot see him. I begin to understand what the Egyptians felt during the Plague of Darkness.

The darkness makes my son cry "la, la" (light, light!) and my husband braves the pitch black unknown to the kitchen where he finds a candle and lights it from the fire we have left on the stove in order to be able to cook during the holiday. As my husband brings that one candle into our room, the entire room is illuminated and the Divine words "and there was light" take on a new meaning.

My son calms down and eventually falls asleep. As I cradle him in my arms, I gaze at the candle, at the light it is generating, and notice its halo and how this small flickering flame has the power to produce so much light. Whereas just a few moments before fear and apprehension reigned, the candle now brought peace and tranquility. I am reminded of our Sages' saying: Me'at or docheh harbeh choshech — "a little bit of light pushes away much darkness." If only each of us produced a little bit of light, by doing a good deed, any good deed, we would push away a great part of the darkness that obscures our world.

My last thought before drifting back to sleep is that I am happy that the lights went off on Rosh Hashanah. It gives me the feeling of returning to the primordial state of things and I think that it is so fitting that this occurred on this day.

9:30 AM

The lights haven't gone on yet and I am starting to worry about the mounds of fluffy Gefilte Fish I lovingly prepared and stored in the freezer for the holidays. The security guy arrives to guard the Synagogue which is in our home and tells us that the blackout is all over Italy. I am surprised and shocked but somehow this piece of news doesn't touch me profoundly; I feel as if I am on another planet, a different dimension. For the first time in a long time, I truly feel Rosh Hashanah. Devoid of all technology, with only G‑d's natural light to illuminate our cloudy and light day, I feel more connected than I've ever felt.

I worry that people will fear terrorism and won't come to the Synagogue. Thank G‑d my fears were unfounded: by eleven-thirty the place is packed and overflowing; over 50 men, women and children from all walks of life have come to pray on Rosh Hashanah in our young congregation. Interestingly, no one talks about the black-out, no one talks at all, everyone is focused on the order of the day. I get the feeling that everyone feels like me — like they are on a different plane, removed from the day's mundane matters.

11:55 AM

As we prepare to blow the Shofar, the lights go back on.

Shofar blowing symbolizes, among other things, our coronation of G‑d as our King. On Rosh Hashanah G‑d chooses to recreate the world and gives it renewed life-force; at the same time, we humans acknowledge and accept G‑d's reign over us by blowing the Shofar.

When the lights went back on, my mind raced. How miraculous that the black-out did not occur just a month earlier during the unprecedented, blistering heat which plagued our country. If it had happened then, there would have been untold damage to people, animals, food... Yet G‑d sent us the black-out on Rosh Hashanah, on a rainy cool Sunday when most stores were closed, thus dramatically limiting the damage and reminding us of what's really important.

In the Rosh Hashanah prayers we beseech G‑d for health, wealth and happiness in order to be able to serve Him better. What do we give Him in return? This Rosh Hashanah taught me that the biggest gift we can give Him —and us — is that one small action. The little bit of light that pushes away much darkness.

Chani Benjaminson is co-director of Chabad of the South Coast, coordinator of Chabad’s Ask the Rabbi and Feedback departments, and is a member of the editorial staff of Chabad.org.
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