These days, the world seems like a really dark place. But there are pockets of light everywhere if you look closely. What are these lights and where do they get their strength from? A closer look at the word “ohr” (light) in Biblical literature can give us a clue.
The first source for the word light in the Torah is obviously the creation of the world when God said: “Let there be light” (Bereishit 1:3). Since the word ‘Ohr’ in this verse is the 25th word of the Torah and Channukah falls out on the 25th day of Kislev, there has been much written on this connection. I think it is also important to note that light is the very first thing God created, even though He did not need it to see, nor was there a living being on earth who needed it. It shows us something intrinsic about what light is, that it is the foundation of creation.
Light is used to mean several different things in the Tanach (Bible), in addition to the literal physical meaning. It can mean God himself such as: “God is my light and my salvation; who shall I fear?”(Tehillim/Psalm 27:1) and “God shines a light in the darkness for the upright, for He is gracious, merciful and righteous” (Tehillim 112:4). Rashi comments on that verse that God himself becomes a light for the Tzadikim/righteous.
Light is also used to refer to the Torah, which sheds light on our ways and teaches us how to behave: “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path” (Tehillim 119:105) and “For a mitzvah (commandment) is a candle, and the Torah is light, and discipline/rebuke is the way of life” (Mishlei/Proverbs 6:23).
It is also used in describing a human being’s soul and the righteous whose soul is brightest and closest to God: “Man’s soul is God’s candle/lamp, which searches out all one’s innermost parts” (Mishlei 20:27) and “The way of the righteous is like the light of dawn; it shines ever brighter until the full strength of day (high noon)” (Mishlei 4:18).
The word light also refers to the Jewish people who, through their behavior and manifold activities on earth, bring light unto all the nations of the world: “I am God; I called you with righteousness and I will strengthen your hand; and I formed you and I made you a covenant of the people, for a light unto the nations; to open blind eyes, to bring prisoners out of confinement, and those who sit in darkness out of the dungeon.” (Yeshayahu 42:6) and “And God said, ‘It is too insufficient for you (Isaiah) to (only) be My servant, to establish the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the besieged of Israel; and so I will (also) make you a light for the nations, so that My salvation shall be until the ends of the earth” (Yeshayahu 49:6).
And finally, the word light can also mean salvation and redemption: “The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light; those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, light has shone upon them” (Yeshayahu 9:1) and “And it shall be one day, which shall be known as God’s day, neither day nor night; and it shall come to pass that at evening time it shall be light” (Zechariah 14:7).
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in his seminal work “Derech Hashem –The Way of God” (written circa 1734) explains that light represents God’s goodness: “God alone is true perfection (all goodness and light come from Him)…in all of creation/mankind every fault is merely the absence of His good and the concealment of His presence. Closeness to God and the illumination of His Presence is the root cause of every perfection and good that exists, while concealment of His presence (His light) is the root and cause of every fault — the greater the fault/the lacking/the sin, the greater the degree of God’s concealment.” In other words, when we sin we cause God to hide His face and we are plunged into darkness (where evil begets more evil). But, when we are good and cling to God, we light up ourselves and the world with goodness and Godliness.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook states that the light of the small cruse of oil found in the Temple represents the following: “Still deeper in the heart, the light of the Jewish soul dwells. The inner bond of the Jew with the fundamental faith in the God of Israel; and the firm and noble will not to abandon his/her life-giving faith, lies hidden there. The Greeks were unable to contaminate that inner world, that small cruse with the seal of the high priest. No power or force can uproot Am Yisrael’s deep inner bond with the God of Israel…the inner spark of faith which remained buried deep in the Jewish heart was symbolized by that small cruse of oil which had escaped contamination by foreigners . But can its light endure when the predominant lifestyle does not strengthen or disseminate it?…Yet a miracle occurred…” Rav Kook is equating the small hidden jug of oil in the Channukah miracle to the small hidden and buried light in each of us — the soul and its life-giving faith that keeps us burning/connected; even when there is not enough oil/light/Torah in the environs around us to keep us going.
The truth is that if we look at what light represents in Jewish literature, we will see that all of these themes are intertwined and share a common goal and destiny. We can also understand why light is the foundation of creation. If light represents: God, the Torah, the soul in each human, the righteous, the Jewish nation and redemption; than by contrast, darkness represents: the absence/concealment of God, the lack of Torah, the disconnect from the soul, evil, anti-Semitism and exile. When God created the world, He clearly wanted the former and NOT the latter. Our job on this earth, as Channukah so clearly reminds us, is to see, to create, and to spread the light in all of its forms and meanings and through this bring about the ultimate light, may it come speedily in our day, Amen.
Darkness is merely the absence of light ! HAPPY CHANNUKAH !