January 6, 2022

Megillah 24

A fascinating discussion in today’s daf (Megillah 24b) relates to a verse in Devarim 28:29 which warns the Jewish people that if they ignore the laws and values of the Torah, וְהָיִיתָ מְמַשֵּׁשׁ בַּצָּהֳרַיִם כַּאֲשֶׁר יְמַשֵּׁשׁ הַעִוֵּר בָּאֲפֵלָה וְלֹא תַצְלִיחַ אֶת דְּרָכֶיךָ – ‘you will grope at noon as someone who is blind gropes in darkness, and you will be unsuccessful on the path that you have chosen to follow’.
Yet, as Rabbi Yosi points out, this verse is confusing because surely someone who is blind is equally unsteady and unsure of their surroundings in the daytime as they are in the nighttime. Given this, how are we to understand this verse?
He answers by referring to a personal encounter that he had with a blind man who was walking, at night-time, with a torch in his hand. Intrigued, Rabbi Yosi asked him, ‘My son, why do you need this torch?’, to which the man responded, ‘as long as a torch is in my hand, people see me and [can warn, and thereby] save me, from ditches, thorns and briers’.
What this means is that while, in the daytime, people can easily see a blind person and can warn them about upcoming dangers, in the night-time the blind person must hold their own torch in order for others to see them and let them know about upcoming dangers. Put differently, in the daytime you can count on others to protect you without significant personal effort. In the night-time, you can only hope to count on others to protect you if you ‘carry your own torch’ make yourself and your limitations known to them.
Significantly, this is not the only place in Tanach where this metaphor is referenced, and we similarly find in Iyov (Job) 5:14 יוֹמָם יְפַגְּשׁוּ חֹשֶׁךְ וְכַלַּיְלָה יְמַשְׁשׁוּ בַצָּהֳרָיִם – ‘by day they encounter darkness, at noon they grope as if it is the night’ – which again depicts the frightening situation where, even at a time when you thought you could count on people to protect you, you quickly come to realise that they won’t.
Yet, as should be clear, both these verses describe how things *should not be*. Instead, as the following verse from Iyov (5:15) teaches us, we should be like God who וַיֹּשַׁע מֵחֶרֶב מִפִּיהֶם וּמִיַּד חָזָק אֶבְיוֹן – ‘saves the defenseless from the sword and the poor from the powerful’ – meaning that our task is to look out for those who are vulnerable and help protect them in the day (i.e. when things are visible to us all), while reassuring them that even in the dark of night where little can be seen, we will still look out for them and be there for them.
In terms of this Gemara, we learn from here that those who can’t see should still be seen. And in terms of our society, we learn from here that it is our absolute duty to be there for the vulnerable – not only when the dangers that they encounter are clear to us all, but also when the dangers that they face lurk in the darkness of night.
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