Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning."
The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. - Exodus 20:20-21
The Torah portion for this week is Yitro, which means "Jethro," from Exodus 18:1-20:23, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 6:1-13.
When the children of Israel stood at Mount Sinai to receive God's Word, they got a little more than they bargained for, including thunder, lightning, smoke, and a piercing trumpet blast! It was all a bit too much for the Israelites, and they trembled with fear for their lives. But Moses said to them, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning."
In other words, Moses was saying, "It's just a test for your own good, so that you will fear God and stay away from sin." Yet, the people were still afraid and "remained at a distance."
Moses, however, did the opposite. He walked closer to God. In fact, the verse tells us that "Moses approached the thick darkness . . ." Moses kept walking even though the more he walked, the darker it became. Notice that the verse calls the darkness "thick;" this was no ordinary darkness. This was deep, impenetrable darkness. And yet, that dark place was "where God was."
We all experience darkness in our lives. For some, it can be financial difficulties; for others, it can be outright poverty. For some people, it can be a seemingly irreparable marriage, and for others, it can be a painful relationship with a family member. We experience loss in life when we lose a loved one. We experience illness - our own or of those we cherish. In times like these, the darkness can feel impermeable.
But what is our reaction to all this darkness? How do we react to the fear, the confusion, the sheer terror of not knowing how things are going to turn out? Do we keep our distance from God? Or do we get closer to Him?
Many people are tempted to keep their distance. Going through dark periods can make us feel abandoned or rejected by God. But Moses teaches us an amazing lesson in these verses - God is in the darkness! Dark times are not the time to turn away from God - they are precisely the moment to draw closer to Him.
In Psalm 91:15, God said, "I will be with him in trouble." God is with us in our most troubling times. It's up to us to grab hold of Him and let Him carry us through.
When God created the world, first there was darkness and then there was light. First there was night, and then there was day. If you find yourself in a dark period right now, don't be afraid. Do as Moses did and keep walking forward in faith. If you persevere, in that dark place is precisely where you will find God - and then there will be light.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President