At Dusk, Let There Be Light

Peretz Smolenskin


Fourteen years ago1 I wrote, as now, an article in Ha-Shaḥar [The Dawn] that I called by this same title. At that time, too, I called out in heartfelt joy: “At dusk, let there be light!” For then, too, my eyes saw sevenfold light in the habitations of the israelites. But what a long journey it has been from that light and the light that will begin to appear today! At that time, we sat by the waters of the Haskalah [Jewish Enlightenment] and joyfully drew water in from its springs, which were like springs of salvation to us (Isaiah 12:3), and except for them the darkness was in our tents. At that time, the pleasant faith sang sweet songs to us, lulled us to sleep on its knees, and put a veil over our eyes to ward off the fear in the night (Song of Songs 3:8), as was its way to cure and heal every broken limb by concealing the affliction or showing the afflicted person God’s salvation, pointing to the day when every suffering will vanish, and even the memory [of affliction] will be gone forever. That pleasant faith in the power of the Haskalah to turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh, and a pestilent spirit into a fresh spirit of the heights (Jeremiah 4:11); to confer on all human beings brotherly love, peace between children, and the light of truth to shine on them to satiate them all together with hands full of blessings of life and peace; that pleasant faith spoke to our hearts with words softer than oil, and showed us from a distance visions that gladdened the hearts and impressed the eyes; like leading youths to school with promises of bounty from heavens above. So it opened our ears to listen to its lessons so that we would be capable: to have the wherewithal to sever like a thread of flax [see Judges 16:9] the bolts of iron which had secured our grave these two thousand years; to free our feet from fetters, our shoulders from their burdens, to set us on the broad spaces of the earth, and to enfranchise us as children of all the lands where we saw the light. We heard and listened, and our hearts expanded, and we were roused with drunken joy. We didn’t think; we didn’t calculate; we didn’t doubt for a moment, for we were believers. We believed, before a contrary thought occurred to us, lest also this faith [Haskalah]—which arose against our earlier faith [traditional practice]—be trampled underfoot and proven untrue. The thought did not occur to us to examine our foundation and consider whether enlightenment really could perform all these wonders: to give all its seekers a heart of flesh, a steadfast spirit,2 and the love of peace and justice, as all its prophets promised us would occur among all people in all lands. For if we had examined our foundation even for a moment, and observed with open eyes the wonders that it had worked in our midst, then doubtless our faith in it would not be so great. For then we would have said: “While they promise to turn toward us the heart of all the nations, to grant us favor in their eyes, and to support us with brotherly love in the days to come. They have now, in this moment, increased strife and quarrel in our midst in every city and in every household—and the crisis has grown.” For the son rises up against his father and the daughter against her mother; every man mocks the other, and the believers in enlightenment inflame themselves against the believers in their religion and the holy covenant, exposing them to horror and derision. So, if among its Jewish followers the Haskalah was not strong enough to change their heart toward good, brotherhood, and peace, it became the opposite—brothers became enemies—all the more so with other nations! . . . All these we did not see and we did not want to see. We believed in the power of enlightenment because we wanted to believe. Like any traveler wandering for many days, when he sees a glint of light from a distance he hurries toward it and refuses to believe that it is a den of murderers, because the oppressed spirit yearns for a haven of peace, so with every bit of our strength and all the desire of our hearts we clung to the support that the prophets of the Haskalah showed us, and we wanted to see everything in its light. Truly, then, light appeared to us in those days.

Translated by


Ha-shaḥar, Year 1, No. 2 (1868).

[See e.g., Ezekiel 36:26, Psalm 51:12.—Eds.]


Peretz Smolenskin, “Ve-hayah le‘et ‘erev yihiyeh or” [At Dusk, Let There Be Light]. Ha-shaḥar 11 (1883): pp. 637–44.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 7.

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