It is one of the most paradoxical moments of the Jewish year. As the sun begins to set and night begins to fall, we declare אור זרוע לצדיק, that light is planted for the righteous. Is this not an outright contradiction?
What is more, the imagery of planting seems inapt. What does it mean to plant light for the righteous?
One of my favorite books, entitled Tiyum Kavanot, or Adjusting Sights, was published in 2006 by Rav Haim Sabato.
Rav Sabato is a Rosh Yeshiva, one of the heads of the Maalei Adumim Hesder Yeshiva on the outskirts of Yerushalayim, and is considered a modern-day Agnon by some in the Israeli literary establishment.
And while the book is ultimately a tale of the complexity of faith, and recounts the fictional spiritual journey of Haim, who loses his friend Dov on the second day of the Yom Kippur War, it opens with an exquisite description of the unique capacity of Yom Kippur to grant us spiritual clarity:
A pure moon shone overhead. Not a cloud hid it from sight. It was waiting to be blessed by the People of Israel...
Row after row of Hasidim danced before it. The younger ones wore black gabardines, the older ones [white] gowns…
It was the end of Yom Kippur.
It is the custom at the end of this day for the People of Israel to sanctify the moon with a special blessing. Cleansed of all their sins, they are supposed to perform a commandment at once…
God is present in joy, and joy comes from purity, and the people of Israel are pure at the end of Yom Kippur…
Yom Kippur is the only 24-hour period of the year on which we are granted such spiritual illumination. This is the paradoxical light of אור זרוע לצדיק. It is the light of the six days of creation, a light that typically is reserved for righteous individuals and flashes of insight at key moments in history. It is the light that, according to the sage and mystic Rav Kook, was captured by Rembrandt in his paintings. And each year, that light is present to all of us, all of whom possess the capacity to emerge from Yom Kippur as purified and righteous individuals.
Beginning tonight, there is אור זרוע לצדיק even after the sun has long since set.
Yet we also stress that light was merely planted by God. To fully access it requires investment on our parts. To benefit from its illumination, we need to till the soil, nourish the plant, and offer some light of our own.
If we manage to come together and shine our own light over the next 24 hours, we will enjoy the exquisite spiritual treasures that are latent on this sacred day.
A pure moon shines overhead. Not a cloud hides it from sight. It is waiting to be blessed by the People of Israel.