Now the earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep… (Genesis 1:2). ...And God said, "Let there be light," (Genesis 1:3). And God saw the light that it was good…(Genesis 1:4).
Darkness is associated with a primordial state. Before time, before forms, before dimensions and space, there was only darkness. This all changed when G-d spoke. He used the power of speech, the first words uttered… ever, to bring light into the world. It preceded life and all that sustains life - water, foliage, vegetation, and soil.
Just as poignant is the fact that darkness, not the absence of light, but darkness as a state in and of itself, was the plague preceding the 10th and most devastating plague, the death of the first born.
The Lord said to Moses, "Stretch forth your hand toward the heavens, and there will be darkness over the land of Egypt, and the darkness will become darker." (Exodus 10:21). So Moses stretched forth his hand toward the heavens, and there was thick darkness over the entire land of Egypt for three days. (Exodus 10:22). They did not see each other, and no one rose from his place for three days, but for all the children of Israel there was light in their dwellings. (Exodus 10:23).
From the beginning of time, light has been synonymous with order, health, and all that is good. Darkness, on the other hand, is associated with chaos, stagnation and calamity. Through G-d’s command, the light of creation supplanted the dark empty void and laid the foundation for life. Light had to come first. Light sustains, it provides warmth, and fosters organic growth and wellbeing.
In the tabernacle and temple too, light played a critical role. The menorah, the seven branched candelabra, was ignited daily, bringing steady light into the holy space at the center of the Israelite camp and into the temple sanctuary once they had settled in the promised land. Without the menorah, the tabernacle, covered in animal hide, would have been completely dark.
The temple had windows built into it. The bible (I Kings 6:4) however, indicates that the windows of the temple were narrow on the inside and wide on the outside. The Talmud (Menachot 86b) in its analysis reaches a conclusion which, when applied to Hanukkah, emphasizes an important aspect of our holiday. “Typically,” says the Talmud, “windows are constructed to widen toward the inside in order that the light from the outside would be dispersed throughout the room. For the Temple, God said: Make the windows narrow within and broad without, as I do not require its illumination. On the contrary, the light of the Temple is to be radiated outward.”
Like the light at the time of creation, the light emanating from the Jewish Temple illuminated the world. Acting like a prism, the windows of the temple dispersed the light of the temple far and wide casting the world in the warmth, virtue, and values of our Torah and Traditions.
Though we no longer have the temple, during Hanukkah, we once again light our chanukioyt, reminiscent of the menorah. We rededicate our lives and our households, as the maccabees did, to the adherence to our traditions and values and, when it is dark and cold outside, we cast that light, its warmth and blessings, out into the world.
Wishing you and your family a healthy and joyful Chag Urim, Festival of Lights,
Rabbi Azaryah Cohen