Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An unbearable darkness of being

So just for the heck of it I was reading one of Steg's posts and trying to understand it. And because he talks Bible, that is not as easy as you would think. There's a lot of Hebrew in the English. Perhaps the easier part to understand is the use of metaphor.

However. He mentions darkness in different contexts. The darkness before there was light, the darkness of the mind that is fear ("fear and great Darkness fell upon our first patriarch" - Josef?), darkeness of pestilence and plagues ("swarms of locusts like voracious clouds blocked out the sky"), and finally the plague that descends on Egypt when the king doesn't let the children of Israel leave.

"God instructed משה to stretch his hand out towards the heavens, and Darkness would descend on Egypt."

And that got me thinking: do men and women see dark differently?

A few days ago there was a powerfailure on Larkin Street from before Clay to past Jackson. It was pitch black, and the only way to go forward was to head towards the distant light, ignoring the thick thick blackness on either side of one's face. I crossed the street to avoid going past the church, as the lord only knows what nastiness and badness beds down in the doorway and the parking lot - I've seen spent needles on the sidewalk in front, and there are empty liquor bottles. Anything could happen at that church, it's scary.

Then I turned back and instead ran down to Polk Street. I didn't feel comfortable at all. I heard male voices in the dark, but I couldn't see anybody. It was very frightening. But I don't think most men would've been afraid, they aren't like that. Probably would've marched straight ahead while hollering 'howdy'.

"The Egyptians groped blindly in the darkness while the Israelites could see clearly."

That already tells you who the men of the tale are.
The Israelites are acting bold, the Egyptians are unsure and insecure. The Egyptians are not the "men" in this narrative.

The Egyptians had good reason to be frightened: "Darkness. Smothering, physical darkness. Personal blindness. Hallucinations.". These are not comforting things.

Steg goes on to describe Pharaoh's fear of what the departure of the Hebrews will mean. Even though Pharaoh can't see his hand in front of his face, the land without the slaves, or the correct thing to do (and it seems clear that the darkness is a metaphor for mental limitations too), he is even more blind to what his country will be like when the Hebrews go - he just cannot even imagine what will happen. The Hebrews are a familiar quantity, and, I think, precisely because of the darkness, because of his 'blindness', he refuses to 'see' any other scenarios.
So the Hebrews have to stay - "while everything was dark for the Egyptians, בני ישראל had light".

That is a clever way of saying that light, enlightenment, and the ability to see forward coincided in this instance with the children of Israel. Self-serving, and probably an interpretational difference, and not really how the Egyptians themselves would put it (but they aren't telling the story - the Hebrews are). A delicious twist.

When it was dark on Larkin Street, it felt safer to retreat and go out of my way, instead of going forward. Better that which is known and recognized, than the uncertainty and unsafety that cannot be seen.
The straight path may be the most frightening, not because of what is before you, but precisely because of what you cannot see.


GRANT!PATEL! said...

Strangely intelligent. I am somewhat impressed. Good work.

---Grant Patel

GRANT!PATEL! said...

Don't quite grasp what either you or your rabbi said, but even so.


---Grant Patel

The back of the hill said...

Clever. Interesting insight. That, too, is part of the text.