In the chronicling of creation, one detail strikes us with the force of mystery: Why was light created before everything else, when there was nothing to benefit from it? The Rabbinical explanation only adds to the mystery, for we are told that the light was immediately “hidden for the righteous in the world to come.” The Rebbe explains the difficulty and elucidates the implications of the creation narrative for the individual and the conduct of his life.

1. The First Creation

“And G‑d said, Let there be light, and there was light.”1 This was the first of the utterances by which G‑d created the world, and light was the first of all creations.

But why was this? For light has no value in itself; its usefulness depends on the existence of other things which are illuminated by it or which benefit from it. So why was light created when nothing else existed?

One cannot say that this was simply a preparation for the things which were later to be made (in the way that the Talmud2 says that man was created last so that all should be in readiness for him). For if so, light should have been created just before the animals (which can distinguish between light and darkness), or at the earliest just before the plants (which grow by the help of light), on the third day of creation.

2. The Hidden Light

The Rabbis3 explain that the light made on the first day was “hidden for the righteous in the world to come.” But this is paradoxical. Since the whole purpose of light is to illuminate, why should it have been hidden immediately after it was created; the very denial of its raison d’etre? And even though the Rabbis explained why the light should have been hidden, we still need to understand why, if G‑d foresaw this, He still created it at the outset.

A further comment requiring explanation is that of the Zohar,4 which points out that the Hebrew words for “light” and “secret” are numerically equivalent.5 Numerical equivalence is a sign that the two things are related to one another (for since things were created through the permutations of the letters of the Divine utterances, two things whose names are comprised of letters of the same value share a common essential form). But again we have a paradox: Light is, of its essence, a revealed thing, and a secret is necessarily hidden. How can two opposites share a common form?

3. The Architecture of the Universe

To resolve these difficulties we must consider a remark made by the Midrash:6 “Just as a king wishing to build a palace does not do so spontaneously but consults architect’s plans, so G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world.”

In other words, by examining the order in which a man sets about making something which requires planning and forethought, we can learn something of G‑d’s order in bringing the world into being.

First, he fixes in his mind the purpose which he desires his work to achieve. Only then does he begin the labor.

This, as it were, was G‑d’s procedure. And the purpose of the world that He was to create (a place where the Divine light would be hidden7 in the heavy shrouds of material existence) was that it should be purified and the pristine light of G‑d restored. He sought, ultimately, a “dwelling place in the lower world,”8 meaning that His hiddenness (darkness) be transformed into a revealed presence (light).

Since light was thus the purpose of the creation, and the purpose is the first thing to be decided on in the order of a work, light was created on the first day. The intention of all the subsequent creations was captured in that opening phrase, “Let there be light.”

4. The Implicit Light

There is, however, an allusion to light in each of the subsequent days of creation. For each day’s work concluded with the pronouncement “And G‑d saw that it was good.” And the word “good” alludes to light, as it is written “And G‑d saw the light9that it was good.” It follows that light was present on each day of creation, but how can this be, if light is the purpose of creation, and as such explicit only at the outset?

The answer is that purpose manifests itself in two ways:

(i)explicitly at the start of a labor; and

(ii)implicitly at every stage of the work, guiding each endeavor in a pre-arranged pattern, so that it conforms to the original design.

It follows that there were two aspects to the primeval light: Firstly as it was revealed, as the purpose of creation, on the first day, prior to any other existing thing; and secondly, as it was felt indirectly (and hence only alluded to) on the other days, shaping the remainder of creation towards its function.

5. Revelation and Fulfillment

Now we can understand why the Zohar points out the connection between “light” and “secret,” and why the Rabbis said that it was hidden for the righteous in the world to come.

While a building is under construction, its final shape is not apparent, except in the mind of the architect. Its ultimate form is disclosed only when the work is completed.

So with the world: Only when it has been brought to its perfection, by our service during the 6,000 years10 which precede the Messiah, will its purpose (“light”) be revealed.

The light now is hidden, but in the world to come (when our worldly service has been completed) it will once again shine as it did on the first day.

But anything which is hidden, is hidden somewhere. Where is the light hidden? The Rabbis say:11 in the Torah. For just as an architect’s drawings guide the builders’ hands, so Torah guides us—through learning and the performance of the commandments—in shaping the world to its fulfillment.

6. From World to Man

Each person is a microcosm of the world, and its destiny is his. So that this order of spiritual history is also an order of individual service.

“Light” is the purpose of each Jew: That he transforms his situation and environment to light. Not merely by driving out the darkness (evil) by refraining from sin, but by changing the darkness itself to light, by positive commitment to good.

And his order must be that of G‑d’s in the act of creation: First he must formulate his purpose. Immediately, as he awakes from sleep (when he is a “new creation”12)—indeed at every moment, for the world is continually created anew,13 he must recognize that his task is “Let there be light.”

Then he must let this purpose be implicit in each of his actions—by aligning them with Torah, the blueprint of creation.

7. Darkness Into Light

If light is the purpose of every created thing, it follows that it must also be the purpose of darkness itself. For darkness has a purpose, not merely that it should exist to be avoided (should present man with a choice between good and evil), but that it should be transformed into light.

And if a man should sometimes despair, in the oppressive darkness of a wayward world,14 of making light prevail, let alone of turning the bad itself into good, he is told at the very outset: “In (or, for the sake of) the beginning, G‑d created….” And the Rabbis translate it as: “For the sake of Israel, who are called ‘the beginning of (G‑d’s) produce’, and for the sake of Torah, which is called ‘the beginning of (G‑d’s) way.’”15

The world was made so that Israel through Torah should turn it into the everlasting light of G‑d’s revealed presence, in the Messianic fulfillment of Isaiah’s words,16 “The sun shall no more be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light: But the L-rd shall be for you a light everlasting.”

(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. X pp. 7-12)