The Torah begins with the well-known, cheery sentence: "In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth."

Less famous, and more ominous-sounding, is the Torah's second verse: "And the earth was chaotic and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of G‑d hovered upon the face of the waters."

Let's take a closer look at these words. Once we understand them, perhaps they won't sound so spooky any more. They will also tell us much about why things are the way they are, where we're headed, and how we know that we'll get there.


The Talmud looks at the Torah's second verse and says: "Such is the way of creation: first comes darkness, then light."

This statement is the source of the law that night precedes day. That's why Shabbat begins on Friday evening, and all the festivals and special dates of the Jewish calendar are observed for a night and the following day. "First comes darkness, then light."

It also expresses a profound truth about every area of our lives: that in everything we do and experience, we begin in the dark. We emerge from the womb to a sun-blessed world; we proceed from ignorance to learning, from barbarism to civilization, from selfishness to altruism, from turmoil to serenity, from challenge to achievement.

It is also a source of encouragement and empowerment to us. It tells us that in G‑d's world, things get better. "First comes darkness, then light." Not, G‑d forbid, the other way around.

In fact, philosophers and mystics agree that the only way to have light is to begin with darkness. Either because (as the philosophers explain) without darkness, there's nothing to define the reality and experience of light. Or (as the mystics reveal) because darkness is the stuff out of which light is made.


The Midrash looks at the second part of our verse (the part about "the spirit of G‑d hovering above the face of the waters") and explains: "This is the spirit of Moshiach."

Who and what is Moshiach? Maimonides describes him as the one who "will restore the kingdom of David to its glory of old... He will build the Holy Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel. In his times, all laws of the Torah will be reinstated."

And: "In those times, there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or rivalry. For the good will be plentiful, and all delicacies available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be only to know G‑d."

In other words, the world that you, I and every decent human being dreams of every day.

And that was hovering above, waiting to happen, even as time, space, energy and matter were emerging out of the "water" of formlessness and void on the first day of creation.

In the eyes of the Jew, the world is not an evil to be defeated and transcended. Nor is it a neutral mass upon which goodness needs to be created and imposed. The goodness and perfection is here, hovering about us, waiting to be anchored and revealed. The spirit of Moshiach is programmed into every molecule of creation; we need only to push the right buttons to unleash it.

And the earth was chaotic and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of G‑d hovered upon the face of the waters. Thence derives the Jew's eternal optimism — our ceaseless effort to improve our world, and our unshakeable faith that this effort will succeed.

Because we know: Darkness is the stuff out of which light is made. And it's all already here, hovering about us, waiting to happen.