Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Light of the First Day

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. And God said: 'Let there be light.' And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:1-4).

When most people think of natural light, they think of the sun. Strangely enough, the sun (along with the moon and stars) was not created until the fourth day. So what was the “light” that God placed in the world on the first day?

Rashi, commenting on Genesis 1:4, explains that God “saw that it was not proper for the wicked to use it [the first light] so He separated it for the righteous in the world to come.” Obviously, the light that Rashi is describing is not our everyday light. That first light is frequently construed to be a form of righteousness “spiritual light.” In fact, the Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah explains the first light as the light that shone when "God cloaked Himself in a white shawl, and the light of His splendor shone from one end of the world to the other" (Bereshit Rabbah 3:4). This description implies that the light refers to a Divine radiance, a pure form of righteousness.

Rabbi Elazar states that with this first light “a person could see with it from one end of the world to the other”(Chagigah 12a). After God created the light and saw that it was good, He separated it from the darkness. Or, as our tradition explains, He hid it in the Torah!

The idea that the righteous light was hidden in the Torah, brings a new dimension to the verse in Psalms 97:11: “Light is sown for the righteous.” The righteous, through their relationship with Torah and mitzvot, can uncover this holiness.

But what about the rest of us, the not so righteous? Proverbs 20:27 declares that “the soul of man is the candle of God.” Just as a candle holds a small bit of light, each human is invested with a spark of the Divine light with which we are able to enlighten the entire world.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
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