As we celebrated Simchat Torah earlier this week, we began the Torah all over again, reading the following words:
When God began to create heaven and earth, the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water, God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.
So begins the story of Creation. For six days God created heaven and earth and on the seventh day, God rested. Within the Jewish world, this story permeates so many aspects of our lives. Most importantly, our weekly celebration of Shabbat, the seventh day, comes from this story. The fact that a baby boy is circumcised on the eighth day of his life also comes from this story. The seven days of Creation are seen as a complete cycle of life. Once a baby boy completes his first seven days, he is seen as whole and capable of reaching a higher level. Circumcision allows him to reach this higher level and officially enter the covenant of the Jewish people on his eighth day.
Because the seven days of Creation symbolize a complete cycle of life, the major Jewish holidays of Sukkot and Pesah last for a whole week. In addition, the menorah that stood in the ancient Temple and the menorahs on the walls in our sanctuary have seven branches. Furthermore, there are seven Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Judaism: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel and Leah. There are many other examples of how the seven days of Creation are reflected in Judaism, all of which teach us how important the story of Creation has been and continues to be for the Jewish people.
For me, one of the most important lessons of this story doesn’t have anything to do with seven days. Rather it has to do with the first day of creation described in the verses I cited above. “There was evening and there was morning, a first day.” At the beginning of time, there was emptiness, water and darkness. Within this wet void, God created the very first thing: light. And with the creation of light the first day is complete. “There was evening and there was morning, a first day.” From this one line, the Jewish calendar was born. Jewish days begin with darkness. This is why we light candles as the sun sets tonight. Shabbat begins as the darkness of Friday night spreads across the sky.
This idea that a day begins with darkness transcends the Jewish calendar. It is an idea that we need to incorporate into all aspects of our lives. We all face challenges as we go about our days. While we might not realize it, as we face these challenges, we get a glimpse of the original darkness that the Torah says covered the face of the earth. The Talmud teaches us: “Such is the way of creation: first comes darkness, then light.” This does not just apply to the Creation story, but to anything we produce, generate or establish. First we start with darkness, nothing, emptiness, then with a little determination, we begin to think, problem solve and move forward. In doing so, we create, and sparks push away the darkness.
“First comes darkness, then light.” The first few lines of the Torah remind us that amazing things come out of darkness. You simply have to believe that the darkness is worth filling with your light. Once you do so, the darkness becomes a new day filled with potential and the upcoming sunset becomes a tomorrow that you can believe in.