Darkness seems to be the default position, the regular state of things... Why does our Creator plunk us down into despair, misery and sorrow and then ask us to struggle toward the light? Why not, out of love for his creations, just put us in the light in the first place?


From G‑d's perspective, light is the default. Darkness only came later, as He created a world. From within that world which He created, however, it is darkness that takes the dominant, default position, and light has to play new kid on the block. That's certainly how we experience life: We enter a world of suffering and confusion, and battle our entire lives to bring some kindness and harmony into it.

Why did He make the world that way? There are several ways to answer—all depending on what you see as the ultimate purpose of creation.

Rabbi Chaim Vital writes that G‑d created the world because He is good and He who is good naturally does good. So what is good about darkness?

One way to answer is that if you want to provide human beings real satisfaction, it's not going to served at the beach chairs by the swimming pool. The ultimate good is when you go out and sweat and achieve it for yourself. Darkness provides the backdrop for your achievements, the challenges with which you struggle. You work hard, and you have the satisfaction of having earned it yourself. As the Talmud puts it, "A person would rather one portion of his own over nine that belong to someone else."

And if you will say, yes, it's true that human beings only appreciate something good when they achieve it themselves. But why does it have to be that way? He could have, after all, created us differently, so that we would enjoy free handouts rather than well-deserved earnings.

The best He could offer us is a partnership with Him

So we answer that there is a reason G‑d gave us this nature: Out of His ultimate goodness, He wanted to provide us the highest, most ultimate good. What's the highest state there is? To be the Creator. So the highest thing He could grant us is to be His partner in creating your world. You work your way up, introducing light to a place of darkness, transforming your world from a mundane "place that's just here because it's here" into a divine place, a place where every breath sings to the One that breathes it. You finish off the job that G‑d began and thereby earn a partnership in the act of creating it. That's true good.

Darkness Sheds Its Secret

This explanation works nicely—if you accept the idea of darkness as a background for light. But could it be that darkness has an end in itself?

You see, darkness is only darkness in a superficial sense. To G‑d, "even darkness does not darken" and "nighttime shines like day." Light (revelation) and dark (concealment) are simply two modalities by which He discloses Himself to His creations. It is just that certain things can be said explicitly and other matters can only be disclosed by withholding them and allowing the listener to unravel them on his own.

Take a good poem, for example. As soon as the poet explains what he meant, the meaning is gone. Similarly, a good novel: The most meaningful things are said by being not said. The innuendo of silence can speak that which words cannot contain.

That is the purpose of the struggle with darkness—to disclose the secrets that darkness holds, secrets far deeper than those held by the light. In the language of Lurianic Kabbalah, darkness at its essence is also a form of light—"rebounding light," so called because it does not emanate directly from the Creator, but is disclosed from within, a product of the labor of the created.

Think of the teacher who ponders a subject for years before lecturing upon it to his students. Yet then, in the midst of the lecture, a clarity of insight strikes him that he never before experienced. Even more so as his students present their questions and difficulties with his thesis. At times it is the simplest student who presents the greatest challenge—and extrudes the greatest depth of thought from the teacher's mind. As deep as the content of the lecture may have been, there is yet greater depth that is plumbed by those challenges to the lecture.

And beyond that, yet a more profound depth: Somehow, the student who knows his teacher well is able to find in the nuances of language, in the mode of presentation, in the oblique implications and ellipses of thought, a window into the most hidden recesses of the teacher's subconscious mind, revealing there insights of which even the teacher himself was unaware. (In the language of Torah scholars, this method is called diyuk—the process of understanding the underlying intent of the words through semantic analysis.)

The struggles each of us endures with the darkness of our world parallel the challenges of the students and their forays deep into the teacher's mind. Light is information that is immediately intelligible: There is a G‑d and He is running the universe. Darkness is also information, but of a much deeper sort; a knowledge that transcends knowing, decrypted only by those who engage the darkness face-to-face.

At the Essence

Ultimately, this answer is also insufficient. G‑d is understood to be omnipotent. Obviously, He is also capable of revealing the hidden without our struggle. Obviously, as well, He can give us the ultimate good without the darkness. Why then does He set it up this way?

The answer goes back to the classic statement of one Jewish philosopher, Rabbi Yosef of Castille, who was asked the question, "Why did G‑d make the world when He did?" He answered (to paraphrase), "At the beginning of all things, there is no reason. For if there would be a reason to the beginning, it would no longer be the beginning—the reason would be the beginning. And then you would ask me, "What is the reason for that reason?"—yet another beginning!"1

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi said it in different words. He cited the Midrash that G‑d created a world because "He desired a dwelling in a mundane world." Why? Because He so desired. Not because anything was lacking, not because anything will be gained. He desired because He decided to desire. When dealing with a raw desire there are no questions.

Wherever you find that purpose unfolding, you will find Him in all His essence

So what does He desire? That a place of darkness be transformed into light. The Creator states it at the outset: "Let there be light!"—better translated as, "It should become light!" He chose that and He invested, so to speak, His entire being in that goal. Not only the entire cosmic structure is designed around that objective, but at every step along the way, wherever you find that purpose unfolding, you will find Him in all His essence, enwrapped within the veils of darkness, "sitting within the supernal hiddenness, in the shade of the Al-mighty He dwells."2

Lots more to discuss here—there's so much written on the topic, particularly in Chassidus Chabad. For a touch more, please read What is the Purpose of Existence?