LIGHT (Hebr. "or"):
By: Kaufmann Kohler
The primal element of Creation in all ancient cosmogonies; the first creation of God.—Biblical Data:
"God said, Let there be light": and out of the primeval chaos there came forth "light" (Gen. i. 2-3). In the Creation psalm, God, before "stretching out the heavens like a curtain," "wraps Himself in light as in a mantle" (Ps. civ. 2, Hebr.; whence "the Father of lights" of James i. 17). He is the Former of light and the Creator of darkness (Isa. xlv. 7). "No one knows the way to the light," which has its seat in heaven (Job xxxviii. 19, Hebr.); it emanates from the face of God (Ps. iv. 7 [A. V. 6], xliv. 4 [A. V. 3], lxxxix. 16 [A. V. 15]), whose whole being is luminous (Ex. xiii. 21, xxiv. 10; Ps. xxxvi. 10 [A. V. 9]; Job xxxvi. 30, xxxvii. 3). Gradually this light of God assumed a spiritual or symbolical meaning, in such passages as "God is light," to those who walk in darkness (Isa. ix. 2; x. 17; lx. 1-3, 19-20; Micah vii. 8; Ps. xxvii. 1, xxxvi. 10 [A. V. 9]).The Heavenly Light.
The sun, moon, and stars, the luminaries placed in heaven to reflect their light upon the earth (Gen. i. 14-17), are supposed to have received, or to still receive, their light from the heavenly light created on the first day. Prophecy, therefore, speaks of the time when "the light of the moon will be like that of the sun, and that of the sun sevenfold like the light of the seven days of Creation" (Isa. xxx. 26, Hebr.; the commentators who failed to understand this meaning wished to eliminate from the text the words "ke-or shib'at ha-yamim"; but see Gen. R. iii. 6, xi. 2). Similarly, Isa. lx. 19-20: "Not sun nor moon, but the Lord, shall be for thy everlasting light" (Hebr.). The Avesta also speaks of the "endless lights" in heaven in which the good souls shall dwell ("Vendidad," ii. 131; "Yast," xx. 15; "Vistasp Yast," 61).
Light is often used as the symbol of life and joy (Job xviii. 5-6, xxxiii. 28; Ps. xlix. 20 [A. V. 19], xcvii. 11; Esth. viii. 16). It is likened to the word of instruction (Ps. cxix. 105; Prov. vi. 23).
Here also light takes it prominent position as a cosmic power. Wisdom is represented as the radiance of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, more beautiful than the sun, and superior to the light which it resembles (Wisdom vii. 26, 29). God's majesty being surrounded with light to make Him invisible to all beings (Meg. 19b), the Rabbis speak of "the radiance of the Shekinah" ("ziw ha-Shekinah"; Ber. 64b; Shab. 30a; B. B. 10a; comp. Ḥag. 14b and Heb. i. 3—"the brightness of his glory"). This was believed to be reflected in the new moon (Sanh. 42a, "Keillo meḳabbel pene ha-Shekinah" = "he who sees the new moon is like one who greets the Divine Majesty"). The "radiance" ("ziw") of wisdom is reflected also in great men (Soṭah ix. 15). According to the cosmogony of Slavonian Enoch (xxv. 1-5) God made Adoel (Hadriel?), a fiery angel of great brightness, spring forth first as a visible being out of the invisible; and as Adoel burst asunder, there came forth a great light; and then God made a throne for Himself, and sat upon it, and placed the light above the throne to be the foundation of all things on high.Primitive Light.
Similar is the "secret lore" of the Rabbis: The first act of Creation was when God robed Himself in light while the radiance of His glory ("ziw hadaro") illumined the world from one end to the other (Gen. R. iii.; Pirḳe R. El. iii.). "The light of the first day was such that by it the first man could see from one end of the world to the other; but, finding that wicked men would arise on earth, God removed this light to reserve it for the righteous in the world to come" (Ḥag. 12a; Gen. R. l.c.). The luminaries receive their light from the spark of that light of heaven, which is one hundred times as bright as the light visible on earth (Tan., Beha'aloteka, ed. Buber, p. 10). According to Targ. to Isa. xxx. 26 and Judges v. 31, the light of the future will be 343 (7 × 7 × 7) times as bright as the sun. The righteous alone desire it, not the wicked, who are as the bat in the fable, of whom the cock demands, "What is the light of day to thee, who preferrest the night?" (Sanh. 98b). Enoch (xlv. 4) speaks of "the eternal light" brought forth in the Messianic time: "The great light of heaven shone forth in splendor until Adam sinned; but on account of the Sabbath God would not withdraw the light before the day was over. Then when darkness set in Adam became afraid: 'Shall Satan henceforth overpower me?' Whereupon God set before him two bricks, from which Adam drew forth sparks of light by striking one against the other; and he blessed God for thelight which he thus obtained by his own hands" ('Ab Zarah 8c; Gen. R. xii.; Pesiḳ. R. xxiii.; comp. Pirḳe R. El., where the story is somewhat differently rendered; see Habdalah).
God is in no need of light; the light kindled in the Sanctuary was to testify that the light of the Shekinah is in the midst of Israel (Men. 86b); therefore in the Temple of Solomon the windows were narrowed from without to indicate that the light streams forth from within (Tan., Teẓawweh, ed. Buber, p. 4). The light kindled before God was to be like the lantern carried by the blind for the one who sees; Israel is to aid in the spreading of the light of God on earth (Tan., Beha'aloteka, ed. Buber, p. 5; Ex. R. xxxvi.). When Moses was born the house was filled with light; hence it is said of him, as of the light of Creation, "he was 'good'" ("ṭob."; A. V. "goodly"; Ex. ii. 1; Soṭah 12a). In the ark Noah used a precious stone which illuminated all the surroundings (Gen. R. xxxi.; Sanh. 108b; comp. Meg. 12a).
The righteous in the world to come shall shine like the light of sun and stars, each in different luster (Sifre, Deut. 10, 47; Midr. Teh. to Ps. xi. 6; comp. I Cor. xv. 41). God had in view the righteous of the type of Abraham when He said "Let there be light" (comp. Ps. xcvii. 11; Ta'an. 15a; Tan., Teẓawweh, ed. Buber, p. 4); whereas the wicked of the type of Esau are sons of darkness (comp. Job xviii. 5; Gen. R. ii. 111). "The righteous who have loved God's name shall be clad in shining light" (Enoch, cviii. 12; comp. Dan. xii. 3 and Targ. to Judges v. 31: "they that love Him shall be as the sun"; Shab. 88b). Accordingly, the righteous are called "the generation of light," in contrast to the wicked, who are born (clothed?) in darkness (Enoch, cviii. 11); hence also the New Testament term, "sons of light" (Luke xvi. 8; John xii. 36; Ephes. v. 8; I Thess. v. 5; Col. i. 12).
Light is the symbol of the Torah (Meg. 16b, after Prov. vi. 23), of God (Tan., Teẓawweh, ed. Buber, p. 5, after Ps. xviii. 29), of the soul (ib. ed. Buber, p. 4, after Prov. xx. 27). "God says: 'If you conscientiously keep My light burning in your soul, I shall keep your light; if you kindle My lights in the Sanctuary, I shall kindle the great light for you in the future'" (ib. ed. Buber, pp. 2, 4-5; Ex. R. xxxvi.; Lev. R. xxxi.). In regard to Sabbath lights see Lamp, Sabbath.