In the dark unknown, everything seems possible to me. In particular, every negative scenario feels imminent.

I lie in bed with the lamp on, and already I feel creeped out, and so the thought of turning off the light is daunting.

When it’s pitch-black in the room, I can hear a thief fiddling with the lock, a serial murderer climbing through the window, my children in the next room screaming at the sight of an intruder.

My body cringes at these scenes. My fists tense, and I try to curl up into a ball and not look around. My mind is in a frenzy, going through all the options. Will I hide? Or will I courageously go out and fight the criminal with any primitive means I have? Should I call the police first? The neighbors?

It is with great effort that I remind myself that I’m just lying in my bed, and that nothing has happened.

Because of all these fears, I don’t want to turn off the light. I want to be ready.

The other night, my mental dialogue went like this:

“I don’t want to turn off the light.”


“I need to see what’s happening. If the light is off, ‘they’ may take advantage of me not knowing what’s happening.”

“C’mon! You know that the light won’t make you safer.”

“Yeah, but it feels better.”

“But it doesn’t. You still keep tossing and turning in your body and in your mind, with all these terrifying scenarios.”

“Indeed. Why do I?”

“Because you feel that if you are vigilant, you will be safer. You are trying to protect yourself from an imaginary fear, with imaginary techniques that will not help you. Every reaction you have in response to the fear reinforces the fear and the tension.”

I shut the light.

A thought comes to my mind: There is absolutely nothing I can do about the kinds of fears that I’m experiencing. It’s that intrinsic lack of absolute certainty and security, inherent in reality, that is haunting me.

I can feel the tension in my arms and in my body as a whole.

I remind myself: “You are trying to protect yourself. But there is nothing you could do in those scenarios. You may as well loosen up. There is just no point in being vigilant.”

I feel myself loosening a bit.

Then I think back to the beginning of the day, trying to recall the nice things that happened. It turns out I experienced lots of nice interactions, and a number of wonderful little things happened for me and my family.

The room is not seeming so dark anymore. Actually, it’s feeling brighter than it did when the lamp was still on.

Going through the process of feeling the fear, without avoiding it, and then moving beyond it, brought out an inner light that I would not otherwise have had.

Jewish mysticism describes a chain of four spheres, or worlds, where Divine energy (“light,” in kabbalistic terminology) progresses through various stages until it reaches our world. These four worlds are: Atzilut/Emanation, Beriah/Creation, Yetzirah/Formation, Asiyah/Action. The first world is the one in which the Divine presence is most manifest and apparent. As the Divine presence travels through each of the worlds, it becomes increasingly obscured and concealed.1

Accordingly, when verses throughout the Torah use any of these four words for the four spheres (Atzilut, Beriah, etc.) or their variants (such as borei), Jewish mystical teachings often understands them to be alluding to the corresponding spiritual world.

For example, a verse in Isaiah2 states: Yotzer ohr uvorei choshech. Meaning “The One who forms light and creates dark.”

It is pointed out in Kabbalah and Chassidut3 that in this verse “light,” which is associated with yotzer, “forms,” represents the spiritual world of Yetzirah, while “dark,” which is associated with borei, “creates,” representing the spiritual world of Beriah.

Why is light, usually a metaphor for revealed G‑dliness, associated with the lower world, while dark, usually a metaphor for concealment of G‑dliness, is associated with the higher world?

To explain this, it is pointed out that while choshech, or “dark,” is indeed most commonly used in Jewish texts to describe the very lowest levels of existence, where G‑d is completely not manifest, it is sometimes used to describe the very highest levels of G‑dliness.

That is because the highest levels of G‑dly revelation have an element of darkness. Their meaning is too abstract, and their energy too intense, for any created being to be capable of receiving from them. So while those are levels where G‑d is most revealed, they are “dark” for us, for the lower created beings who aren’t capable of comprehending and relating to those levels.

A lower level of existence, such as Yetzirah, also experiences a G‑dly revelation that is higher than that of our earthly world. Yet created beings are still capable of relating to that revelation in some form. Hence that level is referred to as “light.”

This understanding of light and dark can also help us shift our perspective on the challenges in our lives.4

The suffering in the world, which we experience as a concealment of G‑d, is in essence G‑d relating to us from a plane so high we can’t comprehend its goodness.

So, while the actual experience may be one of darkness or pain and confusion, it is an expression of G‑d revealing something to me so deep and profound that the only way for it to come to me is through some degree of breaking.

If I show up to the challenge, I will break through my current barriers and limitations, and experience that deeper dimension that is being revealed to me.

We don’t want to be broken. We don’t want to be deprived, lonely, humiliated or confused. We certainly don’t want mental and physical pain. Indeed, the Torah mandates and encourages us to take care of our needs and, to some degree, our desires.5

But even the process of taking care of ourselves and our families properly comes with challenges, which inevitably include discomfort and pain.

Sometimes we avoid pursuing the actions that will come with rough edges. But like the child balking at taking an awful-tasting medicine, we are avoiding the very actions that will bring us strength and happiness.

So, let’s turn off the light, and get into the thick of the darkness in our lives. Let’s crawl into the most unwanted and unending tunnels, and we will find that they are brighter than the sun.

Good night!