A Kabbalistic Retrospective
Kabbalah is the deepest dimension of the Torah. It’s where the finest subtleties of God’s wisdom are to be found, and it’s easily misunderstood. Like the world of quantum mechanics, the realm of kabbalah deals with a concealed dimension of reality and often employs words and concepts that have meanings radically different from those we are used to in everyday life.
The following essay is only the slightest glimpse of an aspect of the Torah as it emerges in the kabbalistic tradition. The topic of this essay is light, but it’s not the kind of light we’re accustomed to. It’s an altogether different sort of light, a spiritual “light” that has the quality of illumination, but not in the physical sense. This isn’t a light that brightens a dark room, rather, this is a light that is present within the hidden essence of all existence, life, and history.
This essay follows the general outline of the book you have just read while looking at the flow of ideas and events from a different perspective—the perspective of “light.” As you read, you will notice bold text. These are quotes from the body of the book and are there to provide a sense of balance and continuity.
Follow the Light
God, “Light,” and Relationship
When God created, He did far more than just bring endless stuff into existence. The essence of creation is the creation of the possibility for something other than God to experience God. Creation is what makes relationship possible.
The possibility of relationship means that there must exist two parties to the relationship. As they say, “It takes two to tango.”
The relationship that lies at the core of creation, the relationship of the human being to God, begins with the creation of “light.” This term, “light,” is not to be confused with the kind of light that comes from flashlights, stars, and photons … it’s not the kind of light that dispels darkness, rather, the original “light” of creation is a reference to God being manifest in creation in a way that He can be related to.
Consider the following accounts of the creation of “light” and light.
Creation: Day one
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. The earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the surface of the depths; the Presence of God hovered above the surface of the water. God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.”
Creation: Day four
“God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of heaven to separate between the day and the night.’And God made two great lights, the greater light for dominion in the day, and the lesser light for dominion at night, as well as the stars.”
Clearly, there was a creation of some kind of light on the first day of creation that was altogether different from the light of the sun and the moon that was created on the fourth day. The question is just exactly what was this “light” before light?
In kabbalah, the epiphany of creation is termed ohr aiyn sof, which means “the appearance of God’s light.” The instant of creation is the birth of relationship, and this birth is expressed by the word “light.” The expression and manifestation of God in creation is called “light.”
Without light, life is not possible. The same is true of “light.” Without it, there is no possibility of life. The “light” of God is what makes existence not only possible, but meaningful. More than just what sustains life, God’s “light” is what elevates life. It’s what creates the possiblity for spirituality, and it’s what places a relationship with God within the reach of every human being.
God Is One, And So Is “Light”
The Shema—”Listen O’ Israel, God our Lord, God is One”—is the ultimate Jewish statement of what life is all about. Life is about the potential relationship with echad, with God. It has been observed that the Shema contains twenty-five letters, and it just happens that the word “light” is the twenty-fifth word in the Torah. (By the way, “light” was also created on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Elul, and the holiday of Chanukah—the festival of lights—begins on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev.)
The number twenty-five, it turns out, is a very significant number. As a rule, where you find allusions to twenty-five in the Torah, you also find God, and “light.”
Keep this significance of twenty-five in mind as you read further.
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Shimon Apisdorf is an award-winning author whose books have been read by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. He has gained a world-wide reputation for his ability to extract the essence of classical Jewish wisdom and show how it can be relevant to issues facing the mind, heart and soul in today’s world. Shimon grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and studied at the University of Cincinnati, Telshe Yeshiva of Cleveland and the Aish HaTorah College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. He currently resides with his wife, Miriam, and their children in Baltimore. The Apisdorfs enjoy taking long walks, listening to the music of Sam Glaser and going to Orioles games.
Shimon can be reached at [email protected]
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