‘Hiding the Light’ Bereishit 5775

The truth is that I did not plan on writing a shiur this week. I had no time to prepare a shiur on Chol HaMoed Sukkot, so I figured I’d take the week off. But I saw something in shul today that made me smile, and I feel I should pass it on.

Everyone knows that on the first day of creation Hashem created “light”. But then something happened [Bereishit 1:4]: “Hashem saw the light that it was good, and Hashem separated between the light and the darkness.” What is the connection between the light being good and the need to separate the light from the darkness? As “darkness” is “the absence of light”, doesn’t light by definition separate itself from darkness? Rashi is sensitive to these questions, and he offers a famous[1] explanation. According to Wikipedia, light is radiant energy, usually referring to electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye, and is responsible for the sense of sight. Drawing from the Talmud in Tractate Chagiga [12a], Rashi explains that the “light” created on the first day was not light, as defined above. The “light” created on the first day was something other-worldly. With this light, a person could see from one end of the world to the other. But when Hashem saw the evil that would be committed by man in the future, He hid the light away for the righteous to use in the World to Come.

Excuse me? Hashem created something, suddenly realized that He had created a monster, and then He had to hide it away. “Whoops! What have I wrought?” This sounds vaguely similar to man’s creation of nuclear weapons. But man is man and Hashem is Hashem. Hashem is omnipotent. He knew that man would one day sin. Why, then, did bother He creating the light only to immediately hide it away?

I found one direct answer to this question, by Rav Chanoch Zundel Yossef, writing in the “Anaf Yossef”, a commentary on the Aggadic parts of the Talmud[2]. The Anaf Yossef suggests that Hashem created everything in the universe during the first seven days of creation. What was not needed immediately was put “in storage” for later. This explanation makes sense and is strengthened by a Mishnah in Pirkei Avot [5:8], which enumerates things that were created on the sixth day of creation at sundown. This list is eclectic, and includes the mouth of the earth that swallowed Korach as well as the first pair of pliers. But it is clear from this Mishnah that these were the last things created, and so Hashem had to create the light of the first day even if it went straight into storage.

I was prepared to stay with this explanation until I saw the “Degel Machaneh Ephraim”, the commentary of Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov, the grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov. Actually, it all begins with the Siftei Chachamim, a compendium of explanations from multiple authors on Rashi’s commentary of the Torah. Here’s what the Siftei Chachamim has to say about Rashi’s comment on the light of the first day: “…that is to say, so that there should be a separation between the righteous person, who is light, and the evil person, who is darkness”. I propose that the Siftei Chachamim is telling us that on the first day Hashem separated between “good” and “evil”, promising reward to those who do good, and punishment to those who commit evil. The “light” created on the first day is only a metaphor. The question is: a metaphor for what?

Proof for this can hypothesis can be found in the Degel Machaneh Ephraim. He quotes the Talmud in Tractate Chagiga [12a], but he has a slightly different version[3]. His version states that Hashem hid the light away not for the righteous in the future, but, rather, for the righteous in every generation. Quoting his grandfather, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim asserts that Hashem hid that light in the Torah. Combining this explanation with that of the Siftei Chachamim, on the first day of creation, Hashem created goodness and stored it in the Torah, where it is available for everyone, righteous and evil, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Those who study the Torah and keep its mitzvot will merit eternal and infinite light.

The Ba’al HaTurim sweetens this explanation even more by noting that the Gematria (the numerical value) of the word “the light” – Ha’or – is the same as the Gematria of the word “in the Torah” – ba’Torah. If you want to find the light of the first day, if you want to find pure unadulterated good, just look in the Torah.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5775

[1][1] Recall that my definition of the word “famous” is something that I heard while still in Primary School.

[2] The Anaf Yossef is found in the Ein Yaakov, a compendium of Aggadot on the Talmud.

[3] He is apparently quoting from the Midrash Lekach Tov, redacted in the 11th Century by Tobiah ben Eliezer

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
Related Topics
Related Posts