Chag sameach and welcome, dear readers –
Every day of Chanukah we are going to post something for you to read! (G-d willing, but we’re working on it.) We begin with something from a book we are announcing just now (though if you follow our Twitter account, we hinted at it here and there…). You can also take advantage of our Chanukah sale!
Ra’u Or: Essays in Honor of Dr. Ora Horn Prouser is a collection of scholarly essays in celebration of Dr. Ora Horn Prouser, published for her 60th birthday and edited by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser.
You might know Ora Horn Prouser as the author of our popular Esau’s Blessing, exploring disability in the Hebrew Bible – this book was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Awards in 2013.
Chapters follow many themes: from disability inclusion to the theme of light inspired by Dr. Prouser’s name Ora, from women’s issues to public theology and Bible scholarship, they all relate in some way to Dr. Prouser’s work and life.
The excerpt we chose is from Michael Kasper’s essay “Light and Peace in Our Daily Liturgical Declarations.” It connects light to peace, specifically peace in the home, and relates these concepts surprisingly also the birth of Moses!
Jewish wisdom has it that shalom bayit, peace in the home, is an idea so important that it deserves to be used as a Rorschach for how to live together in community. The Otzar haMidrashim—Midrash haGadol 42—helps to explicate rabbinic thinking about the relationship between peace and light.
. גדול השלום שלא התחיל הקב״ה לברוא דבר בעולמו אלא בדבר שהוא שלום ואיזה זה האור שנאמר ויאמר אלהים יהי אור. ומנין שהוא שלום שנאמר יוצר אור ובורא חושך עושה שלום (ישעיה מ״ה ז׳). מכאן אמרו חז״ל נר ביתו וקידוש היום נר ביתו עדיף משום שלום ביתו. פירוש האור נקרא שלום לפיכך מקדימין הנר שהוא אור ושלום ליין.
Great is peace that the Holy Blessed One did not begin to create anything in God’s world other than something that is peace—and what is this? The light, as it says, “And God said ‘let there be light.’” And from where do we know that [light] is peace? As it says, “forms light and creates darkness, makes peace” (Isaiah 45:7). From here our sages of blessed memory said, “[When one has a choice between] a lamp for their home and [wine for] sanctification of the day, the lamp for one’s home is preferable because of peace in their household.”
Our understanding is that light equals peace and, therefore, candles are more important than Kiddush wine. Our sages understood that the value of peace was so great, so primary to all that followed, that if one had to decide whether to buy candles to illumine the room or wine to sanctify the meal, the choice was decidedly in favor of light, for light which is shared brings peace to the home.
Other cultures understand the relationship between light and creation in similarly essential ways. In Spanish, to give birth is called dar a luz, to give to [the] light. The phrase is the same in Portuguese and only slightly different in
Italian: dare al luce. All mean the same, to birth a child. All point us toward the inescapable idea that the fact of existence, the fact of humans roaming the planet, the fact of community, all these are shown to us by the magic of the sun. By the magic of light. By the magic of peace.
None other than Rashi, 15 writing in the latter half of the eleventh century, makes a similar point about the goodness of light. Commenting on Exodus 2:2 he sees a connection between the words Jokhebed uses upon seeing her son, Moses, (ki tov hu—how goodly he is) and the Torah’s own commentary in Genesis 1:4 (ki tov—God saw that the light was good).
וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָא֖וֹר כִּי־ט֑וֹב וַיַּבְדֵּ֣ל אֱלֹהִ֔ים בֵּ֥ין הָא֖וֹר וּבֵ֥ין הַחֹֽשֶׁך
God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.
וַתַּ֥הַר הָאִשָּׁ֖ה וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן וַתֵּ֤רֶא אֹתוֹ֙ כִּי־ט֣וֹב ה֔וּא וַֽתִּצְפְּנֵ֖הוּ שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה יְרָחִֽים׃
The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how goodly he was, she hid him for three months.
In fleshing out this connection, Rashi cites Sotah 12a:
וַחֲכָמִים אוֹמְרִים בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁנּוֹלַד מֹשֶׁה נִתְמַלֵּא הַבַּיִת כּוּלּוֹ אוֹר כְּתִיב הָכָא וַתֵּרֶא אוֹתוֹ כִּי טוֹב הוּא וּכְתִיב הָתָם וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאוֹר כִּי טוֹב
The verse states, with regard to the birth of Moses, “And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly [ki tov] child, she hid him three months” (Exodus 2:2). And the Rabbis say: At the time when Moses was born, the entire house was filled with light (ora), as it is written here: “And when she saw him that he was a goodly [ki tov] child,” and it is written there: “And God saw the light, that it was good [ki tov]” (Genesis 1:4).
Reading Rashi, we get a glimpse of the power this creation of light enjoys. God saw the light and called it good, Moses’ mother invokes the language of light to describe her son, and the rabbis posit an entire house, full of light, at the moment of Moses’ birth. Light, Or/Ora, is good!
Thank you for reading, and tomorrow we’ll offer you some Jewish poetry about light! Specifically, the Northern Lights…