Light (Ohr)

אור

Need a moment of retreat, a micro-Shabbat? Stop and look at some natural light (or at night, go out and look at the night sky).  I have always been transfixed by light. Gazing at the dappled sunlight and shadow in a creek near my house, watching the sunlight dance and sparkle on a pool of water, or contemplating the changing hues of a sunset or sunrise, all of these rays of light seem to connect immediately to my soul.  We experience light both physically and spiritually. On a physical level, sunlight is necessary for photosynthesis, growth, and for life on earth to exist. Light sets our body clocks and regulates our circadian rhythms. On a symbolic level, light has a universal meaning of goodness, awakening, and hope, associated with warmth and healing.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols by Ellen Frankel and Betsy Platkin Teutsch, describes light as a pervasive symbol in Jewish theology and tradition, where it is “the primary link between divine and human worlds.” Since God’s first act of creation is to create light, light is associated with creative power. In mystical thought, divinity is pictured as a source of endless light: Ohr Ein Sof. Light is a symbol of Torah, “For a commandment is a lamp, and Torah is light.” (Proverbs 6:23). Light also has a moral association; the people of Israel are called upon to be an ethical example, “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 24:6).

 

Meander down the path in this Gateway of Light to explore the symbol of light in Jewish tradition and in your life.

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The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Or Zarua: Let the Light In

Light is sown for the righteous and gladness for the upright in heart.  --Psalm 97:11 Original song by Shir Yaakov “Light itself cannot be seen. We become aware of its presence when it enables us to see other things. In that way it reminds us of God."...

The Creation of Light in the Torah

The book of Genesis shows the creation of light in two phases, first Light itself, then luminaries. . . Genesis 1:1-5 God creates Light: As God began creating the heavens and the earth—and the earth was unformed and void, with darkness on the face of the deep, and a...

Where to find the hidden light

The Hidden Light: It seems an oxymoron. Light shines and reveals what is hidden. How can a light be hidden, and where might we find it again? According to the Torah, light was created on Day One of Creation, but the sun and other heavenly luminaries were not created...

The Miracle of Light: Hidden in Plain Sight

I heard the following Midrash repeatedly from my teacher, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: Rabbi Simeon ben Yehozadak asked Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman, saying: "Since I hear that you are a master of Aggadah [sacred lore], tell me how light was created." Rabbi Samuel bar...

Light Waves, Visible and Invisible

Learn about Light in Jewish Mysticism, or return to the Gateway of Light.

Light in Jewish Mysticism

There are many Jewish mystical concepts and doctrines that center on the metaphor of light. Classic Kabbalistic works often have names that focus on light, such as Sefer Ha-Bahir (the Book of Brightness) or the Zohar (the Brilliance). Ohr Ein Sof (Infinite,...

Sacred Ritual: Lighting Shabbat Candles

Shabbat, the Sabbath, and Jewish holidays all begin with the kindling of lights in the home. By lighting candles, we emulate God, whose first act of creation was making light, and we reveal the hidden light by welcoming in Shabbat, a day-long taste of the Garden of...

Candle-Lighting and Personal Prayer

After completing the candle blessing is a wonderful time to gaze into the warm and peaceful lights of Shabbat, and to offer a personal prayer for loved ones or wherever your concerns are directed. This was the realm of traditional women’s prayers...

Noah’s Skylight: When Things are Dark, Allow In a Little Light

I love watching the interplay of light filtered through green leaves onto water, the sparkling diamonds of light on the gurgling stream. Light can only be appreciated as it balances and plays with darkness, with shadow.Our lives, too, have periods of light and dark....

The Hidden Holiness of the Secular New Year

Joy for its own sake, laughter and conviviality without pretext, meeting time's advance with unapologetic delight, raucous noise, good friends — these are nothing less than the eruption of the hidden light cracking the conventional crust of our mature good sense, our...

The Menorah: Organic Symbol of Light

The menorah, the divine lamp, is a primary symbol for the Jewish people, far more ancient than the Magen David, the Star (Shield) of David. The seven branched menorah (lampstand) of the ancient Holy Temple is widely recognized as an organic, botanical image, a variety...

Tikkun Olam: The Green Menorah

Imagine a living, green menorah as a symbol of our covenant to be guardians of God's earth. Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center conceived of the Green Menorah covenant, pointing out that both the original design of the menorah and the prophet Zachariah's vision...

Light in Jerusalem

Something about the atmosphere in Jerusalem makes me feel like my feet aren’t quite touching the ground, even when my sandals are covered with dust. If people are not looking I find it hard to resist the desire to take off with a few dancing steps. Maybe it’s the...

Ode Yeshama: A Song of Jerusalem

A song from Jeremiah 33:10-11, music by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, performed by Rabbi David Zaslow and Rabbi Jackie Brodsky, Tom Freeman on drums. This joyful song is often performed at weddings, or sung on Shabbat, a day that's like a wedding celebration of life. "There...

Cosmic Light

    Read more from NASA.gov on the science of understanding light at the far reaches of the universe. And about Light in Nature from the website of the International Year of Light (2015).     Time to light a candle rather than curse the...

Light a Candle; Don’t Curse the Darkness

It is all too easy to see so many situations in the world—on the local or global scale—that seem dark and bleak. Consider the old proverb, “Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” Find one step that you can take for light,for healing, and do it...

Sharing Circle: Light

Hidden & Revealed Revealed Light: Has the light of a certain landscape revealed something in your soul? What experiences of light do you treasure? Hidden Light: Where have you found a "hidden" light? In learning, spiritual practice, deeds? Or perhaps guiding your...