In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth. And the earth was chaotic and void, with darkness on the face of the depths… And G-d said, “Let there be light,” and there was light…
And G-d called the light “day” and the darkness He called “night.” And it was evening and it was morning—one day.
“First came darkness, then light,” says the Talmud, 1 summarizing what is perhaps the most basic law of life, and the spiritual meaning of day and night.
So it was when the world came into being. As related in the opening verses of the Torah, G-d first created a dark and chaotic world, into which He subsequently introduced light by decree of His creating word.
So it is with every individual life. We all enter the world in the dark: ignorant, uncomprehending, barely aware of our surroundings. Then begins the slow process of learning to recognize the world we live in, comprehend its significance, and ultimately generate our own light to illuminate and enlighten it. 2
Even the Torah, G-d’s blueprint for creation and His guide to life on earth, follows the model of “first darkness, then light.” The Torah consists of two basic components: the “Written Torah” (the Pentateuch, also called the “Five Books of Moses”), and the “Oral Torah”—a system of laws, rules, and techniques for interpretation given to Moses and handed down through the generations. The Written Torah contains the whole of the divine communication to man; but much of it is hidden, implicit within an extra word, a turn of phrase or a nuanced comparison between two other laws. So the Torah, as G-d spoke it and Moses wrote it, is a closed book; it is only by a lengthy and toilsome process of study and exegesis that its life-illuminating wisdom can be deciphered.
G-d could just as easily have created a light-flooded world, had us emerge from the womb as mature and informed beings, and given us a Torah in which everything is explicitly spelled out. But he desired a world in which “first came darkness, then light”—in which order is preceded by chaos, knowledge by ignorance, and bliss by toil and struggle.
When G-d created time, He ingrained the “darkness first” law into the structure of time’s most basic component—the day.
“Six days G-d created the heavens, the earth, the sea and all that is in them,” states the Torah, “and He rested on the seventh day.” 3 Chassidic teaching points out that the verse does not say that G-d created the world in six days, but that “Six days G-d created,” as if to say that the created reality consists of these six days.
Indeed, according to the Kabbalah, the whole of creation is comprised of six basic spiritual elements—chessed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod and yesod 4 —deriving from six corresponding divine attributes (sefirot) and embodied by the six days of creation. A seventh element, malchut, 5 is embodied by Shabbat, completing the seven-day cycle of motion and rest, creation and withdrawal, by which the world was brought into being and by which it continues to exist.
The day, then, is more than a measure of time. It is a component of time, which is comprised of the seven basic elements that underlie the whole of creation. Ultimately, the whole of time consists of seven days only; each week is a repetition (though on a more advanced level) of the original seven-day cycle of creation. 6
And each day consists of an “evening” and a “morning,” of a darkness-shrouded night followed by luminous daytime hours. In the Jewish calendar, the day begins at nightfall and ends at nightfall, following the model of the original days of creation (“And it was evening and it was morning—one day… And it was evening and it was morning—a second day,” etc.). For each of the seven time-qualities is conceived in the womb of darkness, chaos and strife before emerging into the light of day.
The Night Revealed
Yet evening and morning comprise “one day”—a single, integral unit of time.
Ostensibly, the daytime hours of a specific day seem to have less in common with the night that precedes them than with the daylight hours of a different day: a glance out the window will tell you if it is night or day, but not if it’s Sunday or Monday. In essence, however, the night and day of the same 24-hour day share a unique quality which sets them apart from the other six days ordained at the creation.
Thus, in the “World to Come”—the future world that is the culminative state of creation—the “night will be as luminous as day.” 7 Yet the seven days of the week will remain distinct components of G-d’s creation, each revealing another aspect of the divine reality.
In other words, the differences between the seven days of creation are intrinsic and eternal, while the difference between night and day is superficial and transitory. For night is but the embryo of the day—the means to its end, the process to its product. While the process is still underway, the two seem worlds apart: the night dark where the day is bright, obscure where it is lucid, trying where it is tranquil. But when the process reaches its culmination, the night will be revealed as an integral part of the day’s harmony and luminescence.
While the process is still underway, we experience it as a struggle, as a journey through a dark and threatening place. But when we reach our destination, the journey will be revealed for what it truly was: a progression toward the light of day. A night whose every setback and frustration serves to enhance the preciousness of the day to follow, brightening its light and deepening its tranquillity.
Based on the Rebbe’s talks on Sukkot 5711 (1950), Shabbat Bereishit 5751 (1990) and on other occasions. 8 Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber.