Parashat Ki Tabo- The Darkness Before the Light
Every weekday morning, as part of the Pesukeh De’zimra service, we sing "Mizmor Le’toda," the 100th chapter in Tehillim. In this chapter, we proclaim, "De’u Ki Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim, Hu Asanu Ve’lo Anahnu" – "Know that Hashem is G-d; He created us, and we are His."
The word "Ve’lo" in this verse is written with the letter "Alef," such that the phrase "Ve’lo Anahnu" would mean, "and we are nothing." However, this word is pronounced as though the last letter is a "Vav," thus resulting in the meaning, "and we are His." The explanation given is that these two readings of the word "Ve’lo" reflect two stages of a process. First, we must approach G-d with a sense of "we are nothing." We must go through the difficult, painful process of acknowledging our faults, realizing how far we are from the people we are able and to expected to be. It is through this uncomfortable process of "we are nothing," of recognizing our lowliness, that we grow and experience "we are His," a close relationship with Hashem.
Some Rabbis noted that when the word "Ve’lo" is spelled with an "Vav," it can be joined with the "Alef" at the beginning of the next word – "Anahnu" – to spell the word "Elul." The month of Elul is designated for undergoing this uncomfortable process of "Ve’lo Anahnu," of realizing how unworthy we are, for the purpose of improving ourselves and building a closer connection with G-d.
In the prophecy read as the Haftara for Shabbat Parashat Ki-Tabo, Yeshayahu (60:2) foresees the time when "darkness will cover the earth, and fog [will cover] the nations, but upon you, G-d shall shine." As the Mishna famously teaches in the end of Masechet Sota, the period before the final redemption will be one of chaos and turmoil. The world will be thrust into "darkness." There will be crises, upheavals, and widespread moral decay. Just as the darkest point of the night is the moment before daybreak, the period before the final redemption will be the darkest era. The Maharal of Prague (Rav Yehuda Loew, 1520-1609) explains that G-d created the world in such a way that growth and progress must be preceded by "darkness," by a period of demise. When a seed is planted in the ground, it decays before then producing nourishing, delicious food. Construction must be preceded by destruction. And so the world’s most glorious moment – the arrival of Mashiah – will be preceded by a period of darkness and crisis.
This is true also of our personal "redemption" that we are to experience each year during this time. The process of Teshuba, when done properly, is not necessarily easy or enjoyable. It requires lowering and humbling ourselves, shattering our ego, acknowledging that we have many faults that we can and should correct, many bad habits that can and should be broken, and many behaviors that can and should be changed. This uncomfortable process is the "darkness" that precedes the magnificent "light" of Teshuba, the unparalleled joy and satisfaction of personal growth and a deep connection with our Creator.