Parashat Breishit: The Light We Cannot See

Posted on October 14, 2020

By Rabbi Alex Freedman

The Torah opens with a paradox: on the first day, G-d creates light. But the sun is not formed until the fourth day! The light of the first day, therefore, was not our light.

So what was this special illumination that existed before the sun? This primordial light is called “Or HaGanuz, the Hidden Light” (“Ganuz” is connected to “Geniza,” the box where we place pages with G-d’s name to be hidden away in the ground).

I want to share two interpretations before my own.   

  1. The Talmud says this unique light was of an intense spiritual nature and the wicked were not deserving of enjoying it. So G-d separated it and set it aside for the righteous in the World to Come.
  1. Our Etz Hayim Humash says “Light, G-d’s first creation, becomes a symbol of G-d’s presence, in the fire of the burning bush and the revelation at Sinai, in the perpetual light (Ner Tamid), and the Menorah of the Tabernacle. For some theologians, light functions as a symbol for G-d because light itself is not visible but makes everything else visible. ‘By Your light do we see light’” (Ps. 36:10). 

I understand this original light to be order that turns back chaos. In the verse immediately preceding G-d’s declaration, “let there be light,” we read, “the earth was filled with chaos, with darkness over the surface of the deep.” In response to that void and tumult, G-d created light. For me, this light must be a response to that chaos, its opposite. And what is the inverse of chaos? Order. In fact, the rest of creation involves a progression of G-d creating order in the universe on increasingly higher levels. So light – which represents G-d’s presence – moves things from disorder and disarray to order and harmony.

G-d set in motion the sequence of creation but left people to finish it. Not just Adam and Eve but their children too – us.  I believe that when we see chaos, disarray, and spiritual darkness in our world, we are called upon to be G-dly and move things to a place of order. Sadly, there remains much darkness and chaos in our world today. As we begin the year of 5781, let us not be daunted by the challenge. Instead, let us be inspired by the Torah’s vision of order and light winning the day.