"רבי אלכסנדרי בתר צלותיה אמר הכי יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלקינו שתעמידנו בקרן אורה ואל תעמידנו בקרן חשיכה, ואל ידוה לבנו ואל יחשכו עינינו."
There is a custom to learn on Simchas Torah the Gemara in Berachos (16b-17a), where it says, “After finishing his prayers, Rebbe Alexandri said as follows: ‘May it be Your will, Hashem my G-d, that you should place me in the light and do not place me in darkness, and my heart should not be pained and my eyes should not be darkened.”
Light and darkness are extreme opposites, so when a person is in the light he is automatically not in darkness. If so, why did Rebbe Alexandri pray separately to be in the light and not to be in darkness?
The Satmar Rebbe zt”l explains that there are two ways that one can serve Hashem. A person may perform mitzvos and avoid sin due to fear of Divine punishment. Another person may perform mitzvos and strive for righteousness because he loves Hashem and wants to serve Him. Both people are getting closer to Hashem, but one of them is doing so through fear of punishment which is called darkness, because he fears that he will suffer in gloom. This is the meaning of Rebbe Alexandri’s prayer: “Place me in the light, so that I should see the beauty of Torah and mitzvos and the light of being close to Hashem. But do not place me in darkness – I should not perform mitzvos due to darkness and fear. And of course, my heart should not be pained – I should not perform mitzvos through suffering, but I should be worthy of serving You with love and joy.”
The holy Rebbe of Barditchov explained the Gemara with a different, beautiful interpretation: Our sages tell us that Avraham Avinu kept the entire Torah even before it was given to the world. How was it possible for him to know what Hashem commanded if it was not yet revealed to him?
He explains that the human body has hundreds of organs, veins and other parts. Every person knows that he must be careful to protect every organ, and that he must eat well and nourish his body so that he should be healthy. The same is true about the soul. The soul has 248 spiritual organs and 365 spiritual sinews and veins, which must be protected from damage, and nourished in order to be healthy. A person does not have to be commanded to eat; even a young child who does not understand how his body functions can feel hunger and will instinctively desire food. So too, the soul craves spiritual nourishment. The soul knows instinctively what it must do and what it may not do, so that it should be healthy. There is only one difficulty: the body’s needs and desires obscure the silent call of the soul, and therefore the person forgets the needs of the soul and may become confused about what the soul really wants and needs.
Avraham Avinu achieved the highest standard of perfection, so that his body no longer obscured the calling of his soul. Therefore, his soul was able to instinctively direct him to the right actions. This is how he was able to keep all of the Torah commandments even before it was given to the world.
Every person has inside himself a source of great light – his soul which is a spark of Hashem. But there is also a source of darkness – the body which covers up the soul and causes the person to follow his animalistic desires.
This is the meaning of the Gemara: “Place me in the light,” – the source of light within me should be able to shine forth. The soul should not be in darkness, and then we will automatically know what is right and wrong. “And do not place me in darkness,” – do not let the physical body create darkness, so that “my heart should not be full of pain and my eyes should not be darkened.”
The person’s life-source is his heart which breathes life into his entire body. His eyes are the key to his actions, as our sages tell us: “The eye sees and the heart craves and the limbs complete the action.” We see from this that the heart and the eyes must be especially well guarded, and if this will be so, then the heart will not be pained because it will instinctively lead us in the right direction. We also pray that our eyes should not be darkened by looking at forbidden sights. If our eyes will remain pure, then we will not be led astray to transgress Hashem’s commandments, and we will merit always being in the light.
The month of Tishrei is almost over. Every Jew tried to do tshuva, to increase his prayers and become a better person. But what happens after these holy days pass?
The Yismach Moshe would quote: “And [Moshiach] ben Dovid didn’t yet come?” Why didn’t Moshiach come to “return the children to their borders [in Eretz Yisroel]?” He would interpret this statement and say: “After such a holy month, full of prayers, supplications and repentance, how could it be that Moshiach didn’t come yet? Because the children have returned to their previous borders…” People are resorting to past behaviors and forgetting the commitments they undertook before Rosh Hashana. If we would continue to hold on to the inspiration we attained on these holy days and conduct ourselves accordingly, then Moshiach would certainly have come already.
Therefore, it is most appropriate that each person should take upon himself something that would keep him connected to the Torah – which is our life and the length of our days. Just as a person cannot live without food, so too a person cannot live without Torah. There used to be a custom to make a Torah-appeal in shul on Simchas Torah, and people would commit to learning a specific Mesechta. So, everyone can announce which Mesechta he would like to complete this year…