The Creation of Light

Bereishit   Noah   Lech Lecha   Vayeira   Chayei Sarah   Toldot
Vayeitzei   Vayishlach   Vayeishev   Mikeitz   Vayigash   Vayechi


The Creation of Light
The secret of concealment and revelation

Speaker of the House
To introduce Himself to us, G-d spoke a world. But in what language?
The Creation of Beginning 
Why was the universe created precisely when it was? Whatever G-d's reasons for creating a world, were they not equally valid one year, a hundred years or a billion years earlier?

The Creation of Light

G-d said: “Let there be light.” And there was light. G-d saw the light, that it was good; and G-d divided between the light and the darkness.  G-d called the light “day” and the darkness He called “night.” It was evening and it was mourning, one day.

Genesis 1:3-5

Light. The first creation. Indeed, the sole creation of the First Day.

But light, by definition, is not an entity in its own right. It is the link between two other entities, the communication from its emitter to an observer or recipient. Light would have no function unless it is expressing the former and influencing the latter. So what sense is there in light as a first creation? Why create light on the first day if the first sighted creatures were not created until the fifth, the first beneficiaries of light (plants) were not created until the third, and the first luminary bodies in the universe were created only on the fourth day of creation?

Hidden Revelation

Indeed, our sages describe the light created on the first day as something that is not part of our present-day natural reality. “The light which G-d created on the first day,” says the Talmud's Rabbi Elazar, “a man could see with it from one end of the world to the other.”[1] “It cannot shine by day,” says the Midrash Rabba, “it would dim the sun. It cannot shine at night - for it was created only for the day. So where is it? It was hidden.  It is preserved for the righteous in the World to Come.”[2] “Where did He hide it?” asks the Zohar, and replies: “In the Torah.”[3]

Again we ask: Why create something that has no immediate function? We might ask this about any creation, but certainly about light. For what is light, if not illumination and revelation? Are not the words “hidden light” a contradiction in terms?

And yet, these two antithetical concepts are more closely related than one might think.  The Zohar[4] points out that the Hebrew words ohr (“light”) and roz (“secret”) share the same gamatria, or numerical value (207). According to Jewish tradition, a gamatrial concurrence between two words implies that they are intrinsically related to each other. As Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains in his Tanya, the soul of an object or phenomenon is expressed by its name in the Holy Tongue; and when the names for two entities have a common numerical value, this means that they are, in fact, two incarnations of the same essence.[5]

So “secret” and “revelation” are two sides of the same coin. And the very first creation was a secret revelation - a light destined to remain in the dark for millennia on end. An infinitely brilliant flash which illuminated the void of the First Day, only to retreat into its alter ego, secret, for the whole of contemporary history. So though light may be the primary element of creation, ours is a world of secrets: a world in which life means grappling with darkness and wrestling with the unknown, a world in which light is reserved for the “World to Come” - the fulfillment and culmination of our present-day struggles.

Finally First

“What is final in deed is first in thought”
from the Lecha Dodi prayer

A concept is born in its conceiver's mind. Perhaps is it the mind of an architect, or of an artist, scientist, inventor, writer - any creative mind will do. The hands that are attached to this mind are fairly itching to put pen to paper, lathe to wood and metal, color to canvass. The mind's eye is already envisioning segments of the edifice, parts of the machine, chapters of the book, experiments to test the theory. But wait, it tells itself, aren't we sort of jumping ahead of ourselves? The concept, let's get back to the concept. Is it clear?  Has it come into focus yet? The details can wait - first we must define what it is we wish to create.  What exactly is this invention going to do? What is the point of the theory? What is the book, painting or sculpture going to express? What is the function and/or aesthetic message of the structure?

Only after the concept has crystallized in his mind, does the artist or engineer get to work.  Then, as the scaffolding rises about the developing edifice, as the canvas fills and the experiments accumulate and proliferate, the concept somewhat recedes, its clarity somewhat dims. Now there are sentences to assemble, problems to solve, angles to hone. Now the focus must shift from the concept as a whole to its component parts. True, the creator is guided throughout by his original vision; but what is at the fore of his mind is the vision as it applies to the particular task at hand, rather than the transcendent vision it was at the time of its conception.

But when the last bolt is tightened, or the final cornice or door-handle fitted into place; when the last brush-stroke is satisfactorily executed or the last revision is made to the manuscript or theorem - the concept re-erupts in all its radiance and purity. This is what was meant, this is what the sleepless nights and endless days were all about. This is what preceded all, this is what receded from view while the project developed, and this is what the final culminating detail again brought to light.

What is final in deed is first in thought.

So the concept has two states - revealed and hidden - both essential to its function. Before a creative process may begin, the concept manifests itself, clearly and vividly; for the slightest ambiguity in the foundation will set the entire structure askew. Then, during the developmental phase it withdraws, lending continued but covert focus and direction, lest it overwhelm the many short term goals which must be conceptualized, pursued and met.

Finally, when the finished product sits before us, the concept is once again manifest.  This time, however, it is not floating in an abstract void; rather, it suffuses and emanates from the multifarious details of the actual creation, now integrated as a single entity with a single function and import.

What is final in deed is first in thought.

The Big Y


Why a world? What's the point to this tremendous work of art, the function of this engineering marvel?


G-d wanted a world that conveys His truth. A world that overcomes initial darkness and distortion to express the goodness and perfection of its Creator. A world that is a ray of light shining off the Divine luminary. A world that reveals its essence and source. Light is G-d's concept of existence. It is the vision He articulated into being before getting down to the nuts and bolts of creation. The vision which precedes all, pervades all, and culminates all.

After the First Day this vision receded, as many sub-visions were articulated to create the particulars of our world. After the seven days of creation it faded into the background, so that man's subsequent development of the world not be overwhelmed by its intensity.  Throughout the process of creation and history, it retreated into the mind of G-d and consciousness of humanity - the Torah - a subdued but accessible secret to guide and mold a maturing world.

A secret until the world becomes the “World to Come.” Until our efforts to make our deeds, our lives, and the very substance of our environment a statement to the all-pervading reality of G-d are realized. Until the day the world comes off the assembly line, leaves the studio, to be seen for what it is.


Based on an address by the Rebbe, Simchat Torah 5726 (1965)

Speaker of the House

The power of the word.

What is it about the spoken word that can evoke such tremendous feeling? The way it is said? The one who says it? The implications it holds for the speaker and his listeners?

What are spoken words? Nothing really, at least not in the material sense. If speech is creative, it is only in the sense that it impacts its listener. Physically, speech has no substance---all it is is a pattern of sound waves. Yet there is no mistaking the power of the word. The simple word has the power to move you, to inspire you, to utterly transform your perspective on reality.

“Let there be light.” “Let the waters gather and land emerge.” “Let the earth sprout forth vegetation.” The Torah describes the creation of the world as a series of divine statements. If we wish to understand the nature of the created reality, the Torah is telling us, we must examine the phenomenon we call speech.

As speech, G-d's creating words did not actually create anything of substance. All they did was change a perception, change the manner in which a preexisting reality, the Preexisting Reality, would be perceived. When G-d said “Let there be light” nothing really happened---other than the impact this had on us, the listeners, to whom it made a world of difference.

The Listener

Say something. Any word or phrase. Say it again. And again. As you repeat your words they spin into meaningless noises. They have lost their impact. Spoken words that have no listener have no impact and, by definition, no existence. But say them again, this time to someone who hasn't heard them yet, and they will regain their meaning and impact.

If G-d speaks a world, then, by definition, someone is listening. Someone outside of Himself---“outside” in the sense that he perceives his own existence as something distinct of His, failing to comprehend that he is but the embodiment of the divine desire that he be. Someone who might consider G-d to be an idea, something to think about, or a force to be reckoned with. Or who might question His existence altogether.

Someone who hears G-d's speech of a world. Man.

The Language

You hear someone speak. He is saying something very powerful. Something with the ability to enlighten you, to provoke you, to open new vistas before you. You realize as much from the tone and timbre of his words. But you are unmoved. He is speaking Chinese.

For the word to impact the listener, the listener must know the language.

To appreciate the significance of the divine speech we call universe, we must first acquire the language in which it was spoken. “G-d looked into the Torah and created the world.”[6] You can spend a fruitful lifetime just listening to the tone and timbre of the galaxies and quarks He articulated. But if you sense a significance to the grandeur of the stars, if you sense the whisperings of nature to be a communication, look to the Torah, the dictionary of creation. G-d gave us the Torah in order to teach us the language of creation, to enable us to comprehend His communication to us---and to communicate, in turn, with Him.

The Conversation

A conversation may sometimes serve no purpose other than to convey the information contained in its words. Directions to the bank, the price of the dress in the window. But this is speech at its shallowest. Meaningful speech is the endeavor to communicate, to reveal oneself to another.

G-d spoke to us so that we may understand Him. Not just the world He said, but Him, its speaker. By mastering the language of Torah, we not only gain insight into the significance of the created existence---we also enter into a heart-to-heart conversation with its author and orator.

The Creation of Beginning

“In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth.”

These words, perhaps the most well known of the Bible's, are in fact a mistranslation.

The correct translation of the opening Hebrew word of the Torah, bereishit, is not “in the beginning” (that would be borishonah), but “in the beginning of.” How, then, are we to read the Torah's first sentence? In the beginning of what?

The commentaries offer various interpretations. Rashi sees this as an indication that the verse is to be interpreted allegorically: the word bereishit is to be read b-reishit or 2-reishit (in Hebrew, the letter bet is also the number “2”), meaning “for the sake of the two things described by the Torah as reishit (‘first’)---the Torah (Proverbs 8:22) and Israel (Jeremiah 2:3).” In other words, the Torah's opening verse informs us not only of the fact of G-d's creation of existence but also of the purpose to which He did so: that the people of Israel should implement the divine will by observing the mitzvot of the Torah.

But how, after all, are we to read the literal meaning of the verse? Rashi explains that the first three verses of the Torah form a single sentence: “In the beginning of G-d's creation of the heavens and the earth, when the earth was chaotic and void ... G-d said: ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

Sforno (Rabbi Ovadia ben Yaakov, circa 1470-1550) interprets the word bereishit as “In the beginning of time.” The Torah's first verse is telling us, he goes on to explain, that the creation was not an event which took place in time, but an event which marked time's onset. Bereishit is the very first moment of time, a moment without a past; nothing preceded this moment, since with this moment G-d created time itself out of utter nothingness.

Put another way: rather than “in the beginning G-d created...” we might say that “G-d created the beginning.”

In light of this, an oft-posed philosophical problem can be resolved. Since G-d is eternal and unchanging,[7] we obviously cannot say that He “matured” to a certain state or had a certain idea “grow on Him.” So why did He create the world only when He did? Why not one year, a hundred years or a billion years earlier, since whatever reasons He had for creation were certainly just as valid then?

But as Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi points out, the question is a non-sequitur: since time is itself part (indeed, the first part) of G-d's creation, there is no stretch of time that can be termed “before” creation.[9]

Certainly, the universe was “preceded” by a state of non-existence--preceded, that is, in the conceptual sense. At a certain point, G-d desired to create a world. But this is not a point in time, but a point in the divine reality. G-d, in essence, is above the desire for a world, yet He desired that He have this desire. In relation to this desire, the world exists; in relation to the divine essence which transcends this desire, it is utter nothingness. This is the “before” and “after” of creation. But in terms of physical time, creation “always” was, since the very first moment of time is also the first moment of creation.

Based on the Rebbe's talks, Cheshvan 24, 5738 (November 5, 1977) and on other occasions

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber

[1] Talmud, Chagigah 12a. 

[2] Bereishis Rabba 3:6. 

[3] Zohar Chadash 85a. 

[4] Zohar III 28b. 

[5] Tanya part II chapter 1.

[6] Midrash Rabba, Bereishit 1:2.

[7] “I, G-d, have not changed” (Malachi 3:6).

[8] Siddur, Shaar HaKriat Shmah.

Be Fruitful and Multiply
G-d's Business
One Day
Ownership of Israel
The Creation of Light
The Speed of Light

Visitor Comments
Jonathan, 12/19/2010
God's light-beginning and end
Thank you for this study on creation. I am encouraged to look to God to bring to completion that which he has begun. We are to show forth his light in the world today and trust his ability to use us as adequate tools in his hand. May he continue to lead and guide us in our journey of faith...