Eyal Bitton
Cantor, composer, lyricist.

Exodus and The Fear of the Dark

Being afraid of the dark is as natural as the air we breathe. It isn’t uncommon to hear little children being afraid in their rooms late at night because they believe that there might be a monster in their closet. It isn’t a question of looking at things rationally. It’s a feeling. It’s a fear. And the truth is, we have all been scared of the dark at some point in all our lives. Some of us, when we were small children. Others, as adults. There’s a reason horror movies often set scary scenes during the night. The creators of these movies know that we have a natural fear of the dark.

Why? Because it’s the unknown. We don’t know what lies out there. And that scares us.


In the Torah reading for the first day of Pessah, we read about how the children of Israel left the land of Egypt.

At the end of four hundred and thirty years… all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night observed unto the Lord for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. This is the very night to be observed unto the Lord by all the children of Israel throughout their generations.

Exodus 12:41-42

It would seem that the people of Israel left Egypt at night.

After four centuries of slavery under Pharaoh, the Israelites are set free. Then they begin their journey to liberation – at night. Their first steps of freedom are in darkness. Their first steps of freedom are into the unknown. Their first steps of freedom are into an uncertain future.

And that’s exactly what lies ahead of them – an uncertain future. That uncertainty is a scary thought. The children of Israel have lived in a familiar environment for so many generations. Now that they are delivered from bondage, they are going to venture forth into unknown territory – both figuratively and literally. What lies ahead? Is it safe? What awaits them around the bend? Is the road fraught with danger? Is tomorrow a day that they will welcome or one that they will dread? That uncertainty is captured in the act of leaving under the cloak of darkness.

But Passover is a holiday of joy. It is an occasion to remember our deliverance from slavery. It is a celebration. The darkness is a symbol of Israel’s uncertain future but it is not to be feared – for Israel’s liberation was by the grace of God.

Personal Journeys

Many people in this community know what it’s like to begin a path to freedom by stepping into the darkness.

For some of my generation, it’s the time when we leave our studies and step into the real world. Some of us ask ourselves what our career paths will be. Some of us wonder and even fear what our futures will look like. This personal transition in life can be daunting.

For so many in our community, it is a greater story of liberation and a greater story of an unknown future. Many of you left your ancestral home, be it Morocco, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, or wherever. After centuries and centuries of these lands being your home, you or your parents chose a new path and took a step into the unknown. It was a step, like those of our Biblical ancestors, into the darkness. This transition must have been difficult and frightening on many levels.

Modern Fears

As a people, we Jews today are faced with a new darkness. Many in our communities around the world are very wary of what Iran’s intentions are with Israel. Iran’s actions in the Middle East establish a pattern of anti-Israel militancy. Iran sponsors Hezbollah in Lebanon and actively supports them in Syria. We have seen Iranian support for Hezbollah as they have made efforts to become a presence in the Golan. Iran has supported Hamas and their rocket factories through the years. And their anti-Israel rhetoric instills more and more fear as they come closer and closer to obtaining nuclear weapons.

In the midst of current negotiations with the US to ease sanctions and ostensibly delay Iran’s  path to nuclear weapons, fear and trepidation about the deal grows in several corners of the world, particularly in Israel. The fear isn’t merely about when Iran will get their hands on nuclear weapons; it’s about what Iran will do when they get their hands on nuclear weapons.

In 2010, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke of his vision for Israel. He said:

With God’s grace, this regime will be annihilated and Palestinians and other regional nations will be rid of its bad omen.

In 2012, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted as saying:

The Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor and it will be removed.

Just a few days ago, General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, a commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said that:

Erasing Israel off the map… [was] non-negotiable.

Israelis – and many Jews the world over – hear these threats to Israel’s very existence and they know better than to dismiss them as empty rhetoric. Every threat to the Jewish state and to Jews must be taken seriously.

Jews in Europe know this to be true. How many acts of anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Israel activity have we witnessed over the last few years? Violent attacks on innocent Jews and Jewish institutions have taken place in various countries such as Belgium, Sweden, and France – and the threat is felt across Europe.

The Road Ahead

But let us be comforted and inspired by the example of the Exodus. After years of great oppression, Israel was set free. Then they took their first steps out of Egypt and into the darkness. Their future was uncertain. The road before them held countless promises as well as countless dangers. Still, with the knowledge that God was guiding them, they forged ahead.

We know that the road ahead is uncertain. The future for the Jews of Europe is unclear. The future for Israel is filled with potential for great triumphs and, unfortunately, for calamity. But just as God spoke through Moses and Aaron, let us hope and let us trust that today’s leaders – in our Jewish communities and in the Jewish state – are blessed with divine guidance. May the Passover story teach us that, although the road ahead is unclear, that although the future, at times, looks dangerous, that although we cannot see what lies around the corner, we must forge ahead and we mustn’t be afraid of the dark.

About the Author
Eyal Bitton is the cantor of Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, Oregon where he incorporates Sephardi/Moroccan music, Ashkenazi music, popular adaptations, and original compositions into the service. As a composer and writer, his theatrical works have been produced in the US, Canada, Kenya, and China.
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