This parashah of Bereishit, especially the first aliyah, contains almost all of the mind-blowing kabbalistic concepts of the Light of Infinite in it. When Hashem said, Let There Be Light…. And It Was Good, it clues us into the purpose of Creation– to reveal light and goodness in this world.
“And God said, let there be light, and there was light.”1 This was the first utterance (‘vayomer’/’and God said’) by which Hashem created the world and the first of its creations. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in his Likkutei Sichot, asks why light would be created before anything else, as light has no value in and of itself; its usefulness depends on the existence of other things, which are illuminated by and benefit from it. Even if one argued that we learn in the Talmud that man was created last so that all would be ready for him,2 light still should have been created just before animals or plants (on the third day of creation), as they would at least benefit from it.
The Rabbis explain that light that was created on the first day was, “Hidden for the righteous in the World to Come.”3 This doesn’t exactly answer the question, because if it was meant to be hidden, why was it created and hidden right away, and still why on the first day? The Zohar explains that the gematria (numerical value) of light (or) and secret (raz) are equal (207), and with Hebrew letters and numbers, things that are equivalent are also related one to the other. So what is the commonality between something that illuminates and is revealed with something hidden or secret?
The answer is in the order. Light’s primacy clues us into the purpose of life. As it says in the midrash, “Just as a king wishing to build a palace does not do so spontaneously but consults an architect’s plans, so God looked into the Torah and created the world.”4 And so Hashem created the purpose of the Divine light from the Higher World and the World to come as hidden in this material world, so that we could reveal the light.
World (Olam) and Hidden (Ne’elam) in Hebrew are semantically related. Since light is the purpose, it was created first, and all creation that came after stems from the initial intention of, “Let there be light.” In that same verse it says, “and it was good”. With every subsequent utterance, Hashem ends the creation with “and it was good’. From this we see that Hashem infused light into every subsequent creation. Now we see the commonality mentioned in the Zohar between light and hidden or secret. The light that was once fully revealed prior to all of creation is now hidden in this physical and material world. The more we reveal it, the closer we get to a time of full revelation and full redemption, when the light is likened to that of the first day.
The light is hidden in the Torah, and the mitzvot reveal the light. When a person performs the mitzvot with their heart, there is no end to the light that can manifest. The Rebbe teaches that if light is the purpose of every created thing, then it also must be the purpose of darkness. So we learn that darkness isn’t meant to be avoided but to be transformed into light.5
I always think of two teachings around light and darkness, one from the Zohar and the other from Martin Luther King, Jr. The Zohar teaches that darkness isn’t an entity unto itself, it is the absence of light. And if darkness is the absence of light, then a little bit of light, a little bit of love will illuminate a lot of darkness. And as MLK reminded us so eloquently, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Jumping into the famous first verses of the Torah – In the beginning God created heaven and earth (בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ). Many combine the first three verses as, “In the beginning of God’s creation… when the earth was without form and empty… God said, ‘Let there be light.”6 The fourth verse is very telling, God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness (וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָא֖וֹר כִּי־ט֑וֹב וַיַּבְדֵּ֣ל אֱלֹהִ֔ים בֵּ֥ין הָא֖וֹר וּבֵ֥ין הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ).7
Chazal (Our Sages) teach that the world was created with Ten Utterances,8 which Hashem spoke in the six days of Creation.
However, if you identify all of the instances of “vayomer (and God said)” which introduces each Utterance, you will see there are only nine. Chazal explain that the first word, “Bereishit (In the beginning),” is also an utterance—the Concealed Saying, even though it is not preceded by the word vayomer.9 This implies that Hashem is hidden from us, and it’s our task to reveal the concealed, to bring down the Light of Infinity in this world of finitude.
Rabbi Abba (c.290 – c.320 CE), who moved from Babylonia to Israel, explains that since The Higher World is concealed, everything associated with the Higher World is also concealed, because it all stems from the part of Bereishit which all the other days stem from.
That is to say that all nine utterances said throughout the days of Creation are included in the first utterance, “Bereishit” – “In the beginning.”10
Within “Bereishit bara” (בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א), which means “He created”, the שִׁ֖ית (pronounced sheet) also means six. And so we can see from the root of the words themselves that all the six days of Creation are contained in the words “bereishit bara,” literally “He created – six”.
Many ask why the Torah begins with the letter Bet (ב) as in Bereishit (בראשית), instead of Aleph (א), which is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, while the Torah ends with the letter Lamed (ל) of the word Yisrael (ישראל).11 We see that the first and last letters spell Lev (heart, לב), and as we read throughout the Torah that Hashem commands us to offer sacrifices “if our heart moves us,” we see that the heart is at the center of true Teshuva (return), which is how we connect to the Divine light and indeed our purpose. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that a person’s spirit resides in the heart, always motivating the person to greater heights. And that the Torah itself represents the heart, which is the dwelling place of the spirit.12
Rebbe Nachman teaches that the more we attune our hearts to Hashem, the more revealed Hashem becomes in Creation. We find Hashem’s Holy Name, Elohim, appears thirty-two times in the account of Creation ,which corresponds to the gematria (numerical value) of the word Lev (heart, לב).13
In Kabbalah there are also the Thirty-Two paths that are seen in the elements of the Sefirot (The Tree of Life), which consists of Ten Numbers and Twenty-Two letters. (See the side for a graphic I made of the Sefirot as records/vinyl). The Ten Numbers, of course, correspond to the Ten Sefirot themselves, while the Twenty-two Letters are divided into Three Mothers (the three horizontal base lines of the Tree), Seven Pairs (the seven vertical lines), and Twelve Elementals (the diagonal lines connecting the Sefirot).14
And so, heart is literally at the heart of all of creation. The same is said of words, as Abraham Joshua Heschel said, words create worlds, and in Talmud Berachot it teaches, “Words that emanate from the heart enter the heart.”15 In the beginning, Hashem spoke existence into being. Tefillah, prayer, is our daily method of emulating God, speaking spirituality into reality. And as Toro y Moi, one of my favorite electronic producers sings, “People tend to listen when they see your soul”, so how much more so when it comes to Hashem listening to our heartfelt prayers.
It says in Tehillim (Psalms), “He will give you that which your heart lacks” and “Hashem will fulfill all your requests.”16 As the Zohar teaches, the essence of the ruach (spirit/wind) of life emanates from the heart, and all the body’s organs are directed by the heart. The heart is likened to a king, while the arteries are like soldiers. So the lack is that of a feeling of a departure of ruach from the heart, and that is why it says in Tehillim, “He will give you that which your heart lacks.” That is the explanation of the verse in Tehillim of the Jews who receive the ruach of life from the Torah.
Rebbe Nachman explains that the way to your individual gate is through reciting the Tehillim, explaining that the world is continuously being created and sustained by Hashem, also called “Ein Sof” (literally ‘without end’, ‘infinite’), via this intricate mystical system called the ten Sefirot through which Hashem channels His infinite light into the finite.
The Alter Rebbe teaches that as creations we aren’t our own true reality but rather beings whose existence relies completely on the continuous flow of the Divine life-force. We see this in Hashem’s four-letter name (the Tetragrammaton) which brings everything into existence ex nihilo. The last three letters of The Name hey (ה), vav (ו), and hey (ה) form the word hoveh (הוֶֹה), the root of “[to bring into] being.” And it is the first letter, yud (י), which modifies the verb as an action that is present and continuous.17
The Rebbe in Tanya illustrates our existence via this continuous life-force in this world through an analogy of the light of the sun:
The light of the sun illuminates the earth and its inhabitants. This illumination is radiance and the light which spreads forth from the body of the sun and is visible to all as it gives light to the earth and the expanse of the universe. Now, it is obvious that this light and radiance is also present in the very body and matter of the sun-globe itself in the sky, for it can be spread forth and shine to such a great distance, then certainly it can shed light in its own place. However, there in its own place, this radiance is considered naught and complete nothingness, for it is absolutely nonexistent in relation to the body of the sun-globe, which is the source of this light radiance, inasmuch as this radiance and light is merely the illumination which shines from the body of the sun-globe itself. It is only in the space of the universe, under the heavens and on the earth, where the body of the sun-globe is not present, and all that is seen is but an illumination that emanates from it, that this light and radiance appears to the eye of all beholders to have actual existence, and here the term “existence” (yesh) can truly be applied to it, whereas when it is in its source, in the body of the sun, the term “existence” cannot be applied to it at all; it can only be called naught and nonexistent. There it is indeed naught and absolutely nonexistent, for there, only its source, the luminous body of the sun, gives light, and there is nothing beside it.
The exact parallel [to this illustration] is the relationship between all created beings and the Divine flow [of the life-force that emanates] from the “breath of His mouth,” which flows upon them and brings them into existence and is their source. However, [the created beings] themselves are merely like a diffusing light and effulgence from the flow and spirit of G-d, which issues forth [from Him] and becomes clothed in them, and brings them from naught into being. Hence, their existence is nullified in relation to their source, just as the light of the sun is nullified and is considered naught and utter nothingness, and is not at all referred to as “existing” when it is within its source, viz., the sun; the term “existence” applies to it only beneath the heavens, where its source is not present. In the same manner, the term “existence” can be applied to all created things only as they appear to our corporeal eyes, for we do not see nor at all comprehend the source, which is the spirit of G-d that brings them into existence. Therefore, since we do not see nor comprehend their source, it appears to our eyes that the physicality, materiality, and tangibility of created things actually exist, just as the light of the sun appears to exist fully when it is not within its source and is found within the expanse of the universe.18
If we look at the world or even oneself like a sun and the light of the sun as Hashem, then we can see that even if the sun’s rays are found within the body of the sun, or ourselves, the rays can’t be said to “exist” there, as they are in a “nonexistent” state as they are one and do not have a separate identity. The same way that the sun rays within the sun-globe are nullified, since nothing but the sun itself can exist within itself, we see this Hashem, the tzimtzum (the constriction of light) has limited our view of Hashem’s light in this world, but that is through the hiddenness of physicality and materialism. In a true sense, there is only Hashem. We are all light, we all have Hashem within us. We generally can’t see it within ourselves or even in the world, as it is all light, so in that sense it seems to not even exist, but if we bestow our light unto another, then we can see the beams of light from within us, around us, and mirrored back to us. That is when we see light, that is when light is revealed. As we see from the first verses in this Parashah, light is good, and good is only good when given. So to reveal light, we have to share light and that is how we manifest good and light in this world, that is how we are able to take it from a seemingly “nonexistent” state to something revealed.
There’s a story in the Gemara that illustrates how good is only good when given. The story is of a king who built a beautiful palace with all the epic things that you would imagine in a place without limit, including the tastiest food and drink in the land. When it was all finished and perfect, the king invited guests saying, “If there are no guests, then what pleasure does the king have with all the good things he has prepared?”19 Man is the guest of Hashem, the king’s universe, last in creation. Hashem says it was good because it was given to man.20
There’s a song on an album I used to listen to called Life of Pablo, and the chorus is very moving, it goes:
We on an ultralight beam
We on an ultralight beam
This is a God dream
This is a God dream
This is everything
We certainly can’t see the ultralight beam or the God dream in its revealed state, but if we have emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust) in both of those as truth, this, that thought is everything, and the Torah is where we can reveal the secrets (neelam) in this world (olam).
King David says in Tehillim, “The world was built with chesed (loving-kindness).”22 Our sages teach that “The light that was created on the first day shone from one end of Creation to the other.” In Kabbalah we learn that this was the light of chesed— “an infinite, uncompounded light that filled all of Creation.” The light of Chesed is at the heart of everything. Chesed and giving are at the root of creation and at the root of joy. Spreading light is done by giving joyfully, just as when light from your own flame is shared with another flame, your flame doesn’t become smaller, only the other person’s flame is now ignited.
I can’t help but hear John Mayer singing, “just keep me where the light is,” a reminder that we all share this desire to give and receive love and light. The secret to life is rooted in giving– giving to yourself what you may need– love of yourself, belief in yourself– and giving to others, which creates love and community, something every person needs to feel alive. The root of the Hebrew word for love, (the very thing that emanates from the heart) is אהבה/‘ahava’, is the word ‘hav’, which means ‘to give’. Real love is something you only receive through giving.
We see this through the Hebrew language and its numerical value. Blessings come from love and Ahava (the Hebrew word for ‘love’)
Ahava has the same gematria (numerical value), 13, as the word Echad (‘one’). As many of us know, 26 is the numerical value of Hashem’s four-letter name (the Tetragrammaton), the ultimate Divine Infinite Light. So, if we share our love and our oneness— 13 + 13— then we manifest that Divine Light.
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Notes & Sources
- Genesis 1:3
- Talmud Sanhedrin 31a
- Talmud Chagigah 12a, Bereishit Rabbah 3:6
- Bereishit Rabbah
- Likkutei Sichot Vol. X pp.7-12
- Bereishit Rabbah
- Genesis 1:1-4
- Talmud Avot 5:1
- Talmud Rosh HaShanah 32a; Megillah 21b; Zohar 15a, 30a
- Zohar, Hashmatot p. 256b; Zohar, Midrash HaNe’elam, Bereishit. And commentators; Rashi, Gen. 1:14; Ramban, Gen. 1:1
- Deuteronomy 34:12
- Likutey Moharan I 10:7
- Likutey Moharan I 19:9
- The Bahir, Kaplan, p. 154-155
- Talmud Berachot 6b
- Psalms 37:4, 20:6
- Lessons in Tanya, Shaar Hayichud VehaEmunah, Chapter 4, pp 42
- Lessons in Tanya by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Elucidated by R’ Yosef Wineberg, Shaar Hayichud VehaEmunah, Chapter 3, pp 35-37
- Talmud Sanhedrin (yerushalmi) 4:5, 38a; 4:9 23b
- Bereishit Rabbah 8:1, 19:4, Tikuney Zohar, introduction p. 6a
- “Ultralight Beam,” song on Life of Pablo
- Psalms 89:3