Weekly Torah Commentary — Bereishit/Genesis September 27, 2013

Bereishit/Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

On this shabbat we begin the study of Torah anew with the opening verses of the account of creation.

“In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth, when the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep, the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”

One of the principles of biblical exegesis says that when a word first appears in the Torah, the context in which it appears creates the backdrop for all its subsequent appearances. Therefore, LIGHT, as the first explicitly created entity, demands our attention by its unique status. Mankind has a powerful attraction to light and its intensely symbolic nature. Light is far more than physical; in fact, we use such phrases as ‘I saw the light….’ which refers not to a visual experience but an internally personal and psychological moment of understanding. The prophets saw light as a potent symbol and used it frequently in presenting their messages to the Jewish people and indeed to all mankind.

Interestingly, the sun and the moon are not created until the fourth day of creation. So what is this LIGHT that is created on day one?

A careful reading reveals something we may miss if we read this chapter too quickly. The verses following the one quoted above read as follows: “God saw that the light was good and God separated between the light and the darkness. God called to the light: ‘Day’ and to the darkness He called: ‘Night’. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”

Noting the Torah’s reference to the first day as “one day” and not “the first day” though the subsequent days are described as ‘the second day’ and ‘the third day’ and so forth, Rashi points out that the Light of day one was a powerful manifestation of all spiritual and material energetic potential; in other words, the vital point from which the myriad of nature and humanity would come. Interestingly enough, the Big Bang theory of creation proposes that the entire universe of innumerable galaxies emanated from a single, unified “point” of concentrated matter. Thus, from the viewpoint of the Sages, science confirms in its own terms what the Torah earlier proclaimed: that Day One of creation manifested the divine Light which contained within it the seeds of all subsequent creation. The unseen energy that causes a plant to grow and the human body to synthesize sunlight into vitamin D in our bodies, for example, emanates from that burst of Divine Light that appeared when God said, “Let there be Light.” That first created LIGHT encompasses spiritual and physical reality and serves as a bridge between the Oneness of God and the plurality of His creation.

Light plays an important role in the Prophets and the Writings. Consider these examples among many:

“Oh House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of God.” Isaiah 2:5
“Happy is the people who know the sound of the shofar; they will walk in the light of Your countenance.” Psalm 89:16
“The Word of God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.” Psalm 119:105

And as man is created in the image of God, King Solomon used light imagery to describe this truth when he wrote in his Proverbs: “The candle of God is the soul of man.” 20:7

Not surprisingly, in the Haftorah that accompanies this week’s reading, we find the following verses:
“I, God, have called you in righteousness and will hold your hand and will keep you and give you for a covenant to the people, for a LIGHT unto the nations; to open the eyes of the blind, to release the prisoners from their confinement, and they that sit in darkness, out of their prison…” Isaiah 42:6

Therefore, we can conclude that underlying all the various meanings of light found in the Torah and Tanach lies the principle that human beings have the capacity to be conscious of the spiritual reality beyond the earthly factors of daily living. Once this God-consciousness becomes real to an individual, life changes. To “see the light” is to reach a new level of consciousness, to progress spiritually. To “see the light” is also the stepping-stone to “becoming a light” to those around us.
Unless we understand that a major purpose of our earthly existence is to be a “Light” to people around us, we will waste years in self-serving pursuits that in the end leave us empty and dissatisfied with life.

Each human being is a unique expression of ‘light’, just as each type of flower has its own beauty and fragrance. The simple song many of us learned as children says it clearly: “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine…”

In Tune with Torah this week = as we plunge into this new Hebrew year, let’s ask ourselves, “Is my light shining? Am I a positive influence on those around me? Do I mirror the goodness of God to my family and friends? Am I a ‘light to the nations’?

Shabbat Shalom

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