At the very beginning of the Bible, God creates light. We usually translate the verse to read, “And God said, let there be light…” But a better translation would be that God said, “there will be light, and there was light.” God declares that light will exist, and it exists.
The problem that we have with this light is that it shouldn’t exist until the fourth day of creation, when God creates the sun, moon, and stars. Because immediately after creating light God names it Day, and the darkness is named Night. How can there be day and night without the sun?
We run into a similar problem in the story of Noah and the ark. God tells Noah to “make a tzohar for the ark…” (Genesis 6:16). We usually translate the word to mean window or skylight, and move on with the story.
But this week Rabbi Jonathan Sacks quotes a Midrash in which some rabbis disagreed about the tzohar: “Some say this was a window; others say that it was a precious stone that gave light to them” (Genesis Rabbah 31:11). Rabbi Sacks explains that the stone had the miraculous quality of being able to generate light.
In both cases, the source of the light is mysterious. We’re left guessing; what was that primordial light that existed before physical sources of light were created? And from where did the light in the ark come? Was one small skylight sufficient to light the entire structure? Was there a magical stone?
This week, I discovered another mysterious source of light, as I watched news stories about Halloween, scrolled through Facebook and saw photo after photo of children in their costumes.
The children whose faces shone the brightest were those who are in wheelchairs or bald from cancer treatments. Adults had created truly amazing costumes for them that incorporated the wheelchairs, the crutches, the bald heads, the missing limbs.
For these kids, having an incredible Halloween costume means being seen as special and admirable, rather than different. And the result is that their faces shone with an indescribable light, a light that seemed to be infectious, as it spread to all of the people around them.
It is the light of pure joy.
I can imagine God experiencing that joy while creating the sky and earth, plants and animals and humans, all of the wondrous things the earth contains.
I can imagine Noah, his family, and even the animals experiencing that joy while realizing that their lives had meaning, that they would be responsible for doing something important in the world.
I can imagine each of us opening ourselves to that joy, and I know that tomorrow night when I light my Shabbat candles, I will experience a small taste of what God felt.