Parashat Bereshit: The Light Will Shine
The opening verses of Parashat Bereshit tell that at the time of the beginning of the world’s creation, "the earth was ‘Tohu Va’bohu’" – meaning, filled with confusion and nothingness – "and there was darkness upon the deep." Then G-d proclaimed, "Let there be light," and light was created.
The Or Ha’haim Ha’kadosh (Rav Haim Ben-Attar, 1696-1743) explains these verses as an allusion to the Jewish Nation’s exile. The expression "Tohu Va’bohu" in Gematria equals 430 – thus alluding to the 430-year period from the time G-d informed Abraham about the Egyptian exile until Beneh Yisrael’s redemption from Egypt. Moreover, the Aramaic Targum Onkelos translation of the Torah translates the word "Bohu" as "Rekanaya" ("emptiness"), which alludes to the Babylonian exile. The prophet Yirmiyahu (51:34) says in reference to Nebuchadnesar – the Babylonian emperor who exile Beneh Yisrael – "Keli Rek" – "an empty utensil." Thus, the word "Bohu" contains a subtle allusion to the Babylonian exile. The Torah then speaks of the darkness that filled all of existence, which the Or Ha’haim understands as an allusion to our current exile, which has lasted for millennia. The Or Ha’haim writes that our exile is described as "dark" because of the suffering our nation has endured at the hands of hostile nations, and because of the Yeser Ha’ra (evil inclination), the sinful lures and temptations which become ever more prevalent and make it especially challenging for us to properly devote ourselves to Hashem.
However, the Torah tells that G-d pronounced that light should shine – and, sure enough, there was light. The Or Ha’haim writes that no matter how dark our exile becomes, no matter how difficult the challenges are, Hashem will eventually proclaim, "Yehi Or" – "Let there be light," and the darkness will give way to the brilliant light of redemption.
When we look around, and consider the state of Am Yisrael in our time, we might feel disheartened and fall into despair. The "darkness" described by the Or Ha’haim has only intensified in the nearly 300 years since he wrote these words. True, we might not face the same kind of persecution as that which the Jews suffered in the past, but the "darkness" wrought by the Yeser Ha’ra is much thicker and drearier than ever before. Technology has given the Yeser Ha’ra power that our ancestors never imagined it having, and so many precious souls have fallen into this trap. In many ways, our exile is darker now than it ever was. Right at the beginning of the Torah, the Or Ha’haim makes a point of giving us the encouragement and optimism that we need, to avoid despair. He assures us that even when darkness fills the earth, G-d will bring the great light of redemption, save us from all the difficulties and struggles that we face, and create for us a new world, one in which we will be able to faithfully serve Him as we are meant to.