Last night I drove straight into a metal pole. Not just a light bump with the front fender, but a real, full-speed collision that landed me on the median strip of a major highway, miraculously unharmed. No, I wasn’t driving under the influence; I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel, hit a patch of ice or lose control of the vehicle. I simply didn’t see the pole until it was too late.

Turning out of my driveway, I unintentionally turned too far into the center lane, the turning lane. I simply didn’t see the pole until it was too lateAs a result, I now found myself speeding along at 55 mph, not knowing I was in the wrong lane, until I collided with the metal pole indicating the beginning of a concrete median strip.

In all honesty, it is rather difficult to miss a tall metal pole, even if one is not expecting it. However, it was dark outside and, like many others, I have poor nighttime vision. Had it been daytime, it certainly would have been easier to realize I had turned into the wrong lane and correct it immediately.

The relationship between galut, exile, and geulah, redemption, is frequently paralleled to the relationship between darkness and light. Just as physical darkness is characterized and defined by the absence of light, exile can be identified as spiritual darkness created by the absence of G‑dliness in a revealed state.

The world we live in is shrouded by darkness, characterized by concealment. Physical darkness obscures and dims our vision, significantly handicapping one of our more sensitive senses. Nighttime can be frightening and misleading. Harmless objects appear menacing and take on lifelike properties. Even the branch of a tree waving innocuously in the breeze adopts new and frightening dimensions in the dark and shadowy countryside, not to mention the many children whose bedroom furniture transforms into the full gamut of monsters during the night and immediately revert to bookshelves, closets, dressers and chairs with the first light of morning.

Recently, while driving through the mountains at night, something caught my eye. On the left side of the road stood a wide body of water, with several sprawling but empty fields alongside, gently sloping upwards, forming an incline upon which sat an impressive-looking building. Strong lights shone at regular intervals along the entire length of the structure, angled vertically, casting cone-shaped beams down the walls. The center of the building seemed elevated, lending it an air of importance. Unfamiliar with the area, I speculated as to what the mysterious building might be. Had I been in a country with a history or royal monarchy, I would have easily assumed it to be an ancient palace or castle.

Shortly thereafter, I again found myself driving along that same winding road, this time in broad daylight. Imagine my surprise to see not the magnificent palace I had envisioned, not an ancient castle, not even an official government building or museum. There, behind the lake, atop the grassy hill, towered a forbidding red-brick block, surrounded by barbed wire and heavy gates. My castle was not a castle at all. My castle was not a castle at allMy castle was actually a high-security prison, isolated and removed from the city for security purposes.

What disturbed me most, though, was not the thought of being in such close proximity to a prison, nor the jarring contrast between the cold, sterile prison building and the surrounding nature. What I found most disconcerting was the absolute transformation this single structure seemed to undergo daily, for no matter how many times I drove past the prison in following weeks, I remained unable to reconcile my nighttime “palace” with the daylight prison. Nothing in its nighttime appearance could possibly have suggested the true nature of the building, yet its daytime appearance left no room to doubt the presence of criminals being detained and disciplined inside its brick walls and electric fences.

This is the effect that exile has on us. The spiritual darkness that pervades our world alters our perception, challenging our integrity.

This spiritual darkness is the very essence of exile. The Hebrew word galut means “concealment.” During exile, G‑d’s essence is covered and hidden from us. Were it to be revealed freely in our lives, we would have no doubts, no challenges, no questions. The pure and correct option would always be clearly and unquestionably obvious to us. However, during exile this clarity is withheld from us.

Nevertheless, just as the darkness didn’t change the actual nature and composition of the prison, but simply altered my perception of it, similarly the heavy layer of darkness that is galut does not eradicate or change the many sparks of G‑dliness present in our mundane world. It simply makes it more challenging to recognize and uncover them.

This concealment impairs our spiritual vision, blurring the lines between good and bad and between right and wrong, muting the distinctions between holy and unholy, pure and impure, to our limited comprehension.

Unfortunately, it becomes all too easy to be deceived by darkness, by outward appearances and external trappings, not realizing that because of our limited vision we see anything but the truth. Indeed it becomes all too easy to take a slight wrong turn in the darkness, and without realizing, we find ourselves traveling at full speed down the wrong lane.

Nevertheless, as soon as one catches himself on the wrong path, he can still reverse, backtrack his steps and begin his journey in the right direction, as illustrated by the following story.

A distraught father once traveled to the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, to seek advice about his rebellious son.

Rebbe,” he cried, “my son is straying from everything we have taught him. He no longer sits and studies the sweet words of Torah, nor does he follow the commandments. I am afraid that before long he will be completely lost!”

The rebbe then asked to speak with the son directly. The man knew it would not be easy to convince his son to visit the rebbe, and he spent the entire return trip trying to construct a foolproof plan to get his son there. Before long, he came up with an excellent idea. If you take a wrong turn, you’ll only be going faster in the wrong directionTo his and his wife’s chagrin, their wayward son had become exceedingly fond of horseback riding. So, the father would ask the boy to run an errand in Liozna, where the rebbe lived, knowing that the boy would jump at the opportunity to ride into town. As soon as he appeared on the streets of Liozna, his father’s friends would whisk him away to the rebbe’s house.

The plan was executed flawlessly, and the boy found himself standing before the Alter Rebbe, quite surprised.

“Tell me,” asked the rebbe gently, “why did you choose to ride here instead of coming by wagon?”

“To tell the truth,” the boy replied, “it’s because I love to ride, and my horse is a particularly fine one. Why shouldn’t I take advantage of him?”

“Really?” continued the rebbe. “What are the advantages of such an animal?”

“A horse such as mine,” the boy explained, “runs unusually quickly. You jump on his back, speed down the road, and before you know it, you’ve reached your destination.”

“That is indeed a great advantage,” answered the rebbe, “but only if you are on the right road. If you take a wrong turn, you’ll only be going faster in the wrong direction.”

“Even so,” countered the lad, “the horse would help you get back on the right road more quickly, as soon as you realize you’re on the wrong road.”

“If you yourself realize you’re on the wrong road,” the rebbe slowly emphasized. “It’s true, my boy, if you realize you have strayed from the right path and catch yourself before it’s too late, you can quickly return.”

The words of the Alter Rebbe, uttered lovingly and deliberately, had their desired effect on the young boy, who renewed his studies and returned to his family a changed person.

May we all merit to choose the right path, despite the darkness that encumbers us. The blackest, darkest part of the night is always minutes before dawn breaks, bathing the horizon in her warm glow. Similarly, the harshest, darkest, most confusing part of exile is when redemption is imminent and the concealment will lift, giving us total clarity and perfect vision.