Rebbe Nachman of Breslav says:

“A religious discussion creates both ‘Direct Light’ and ‘Reflected Light’.
When you speak to a friend about G-dliness, the information he receives from you is ‘Direct Light’.
What you gain from him is ‘Reflected Light’.” [1]

I wrote on this same quotation 5 years ago:

I had reason to think of this yesterday [11/12/16; 4 days after the election], in talking to some residents at an Assisted Living Facility about their responses to the recent election in America.

As a note to future readers, the 2016 election has been followed by severe emotional reactions among those who desired and expected a different outcome. Those reactions include rage, fear and depression to a degree I’ve never observed in any other election. I observed this at my f/t workplace as well: on the day following the election there was a palpable pall, although no one spoke of their feelings explicitly.

As a rabbi, I tend to avoid discussing “current events.” When I was young, there was a demand for rabbis to do so, in the (assumed) interests of increased “relevance.” But I’ve felt that my rabbinic and educational role has more to do with providing access to Jewish teachings.

I didn’t want to impose my own views on the group, nor did I want to ignore what people might be feeling. 

My personal practice is to accept God’s goodness in all things; even to events in my own daily experience. In Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein’s words, it’s “applying the teachings of Judaism to the problems of every-day life.” [2]

I didn’t support the electee nor was I overly invested in the unsuccessful nominee, but I can’t deny a certain depressed feeling of my own. Still, my reaction was much less than that of others, or that of the street-protesters.  

Nevertheless, I opened up this discussion by saying that there might not be — especially in this case — a dichotomy between discussing Torah and discussing current events. Torah is meant to teach us how to respond to life, by seeing the world as filled with God’s dominion and goodness. Each of the parts of Torah gives us examples of this. We read the “books” of Torah to learn. But when we take it to heart, we find: We are living Torah today! Each of our lives is a book of Torah, which we are writing and expanding daily.

So, I discussed seeing the “good” in the outcome of the election. I pointed out that we might not see “the good” in perceptible ways, but that our perceptions aren’t necessarily reliable. For example — standing on the shore and looking out over the ocean, the world appears to be flat. We know that it’s round, but this “roundness” isn’t immediately apparent to our senses. We therefore can’t base our knowledge of God’s goodness in this outcome on what we “see” alone. We can, however, “know” it.

I tied this in with the Akeidah — the binding of Yitzhak. Although this appears not in the current parshah, Lech L’cha, but in the next one, Va’Yerah, I might just as easily have tied it in with God’s call to Avram (in Lech L’cha) to leave his home. Avram could not have “seen” the goodness in God commanding him to leave everyone he knew and loved, to leave the only home he knew (although God promises to bless him and make him “a great nation”). Nor could Avraham “see” the goodness in God’s command to sacrifice Yitzhak. But from what we know of Avraham, he “knew” it, without doubting, and acted on it.

Why do we not see God’s goodness at all times? Torah tells us that it’s a result of Adam and Havah eating the fruit of the tree in Gan Eiden. What was the tree? Torah says it was the “tree of the knowledge of good and bad.” It means that before they ate that fruit, they innocently accepted whatever happened. After eating it, they felt that they could determine what is “good and bad.” But with that (erroneous) belief in their own judgement came shame, guilt, violence and every other misery that humans create on themselves and each other.

Don’t we do the same? If we think something is good, we’re happy. If we think something is bad, we’re upset in some way (angry, worried, depressed, etc.).

The Akeidah represents the return, through “obedience” — i.e. non-judgmental acceptance and compliance — to that level of calmness at all times, in all events, which is the true inheritance that God intends for all people; the status of Adam and Havah before eating the fruit. That is our model.

I said, too, that God created the people Israel to demonstrate this acceptance and inner peace (expressed in society and culture, too) to all the people of the world. We’re meant to be God’s blessing for the world.  

I mentioned that I had posted on Facebook three positive things the election teaches:
1 — Anything is possible.
2 — Votes count; voting matters.
3 — The “system” isn’t as thoroughly “rigged” as we might otherwise feel or believe. 

As I spoke to the group, emphasizing God’s active, present goodness in all things and events, I could feel my mood improving. Some of the participants expressed the same by the end of the meeting.

Speaking of God’s Goodness, even as expressed in current events, is “speaking Torah.” Rebbe Nachman calls this “Direct Light.” On a spiritual level, Light radiates from us when we speak with sincerity and confidence about God’s Goodness. That Light dissipates the “darkness” in the other person; darkness caused by sadness, fear, anger, etc.  We don’t necessarily “see” a Light with our eyes, although it’s possible to “see” it cognitively. But our radiating the Light — by affirming God’s Goodness whole-heartedly — makes it much easier for our suffering companions to be relieved of their discomfort.

Rebbe Nachman adds to this that when we emit “Direct Light,” we benefit, too, from that Light being “reflected” back to us.

I saw this in the improvement of my own mood; a greater calmness about the events. I’ve had similar experiences; for example, when I gave a sermon at a large Conservative synagogue in 2008, on emunah as it related to parshah Miketz, after the economic collapse at that time. The rabbi of the congregation reported positive comments from the members for weeks after the sermon. I’d said nothing “original.” I merely affirmed God’s Presence and Goodness as it related to “current events.” The “Direct Light,” then as now, lifted people’s sadness. It’s “reflection” lifted me, too.

I don’t know if Rebbe Nachman mentions this, but I think we can give “Direct Light” to ourselves, too, by the words we choose to describe events to ourselves. We usually do this in thoughts, rather than in articulated words. But we can choose the thoughts we “say” to ourselves, too. This certainly overlaps the principles of “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” but goes much farther and deeper. 

It not only “improves our mood;” it cleanses our soul.

[1] Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom; # 99; p. 229-30;
a fuller version of the same quote:
“When a person discusses devotion [elsewhere: Godliness] with a friend, it creates “direct light” and “returning light.”
Sometimes the “returning light” comes before the “direct light,” as when the recipient has certain mental limits that prevent him from accepting his friend’s words. Even before the recipient receives the “direct light” from his friend, the friend already receives “returning light.”
Even if the intended recipient cannot accept his friend’s words, the friend can be inspired by what he himself is saying. When his words come forth from his mouth and strike the other, the light is reflected back to the speaker just as when something thrown against a wall bounces back to the thrower. In the same way, when you speak to a friend, you can be inspired by the words that bounce off him even though he himself is unable to accept them.
Had you told yourself exactly the same thing, it may be that you would not have been aroused in the least. But by addressing them to your friend, you yourself are inspired even if he is not, because your words are reflected back to you from your friend.”
Likutey Moharan I, 184

[2] Lichtenstein, Rabbi Morris; Jewish Science and Health; “Fundamentals”