Nothing from Something

“Aaron and the Seven Branched Candlestick,”       by Marc Chagall

Aharon of Karlin, from Beis Aharon, Behaalotecha.

בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ אֶת הַנֵּרֹת אֶל מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah. Numbers 8:2

On this Rashi (1) comments, “The literal meaning of when you light is ‘when you cause them to rise up,’ meaning that when Aaron lights the lamps he must do so until the flame rises up on its own.” For when the Holy One of Blessing created the world, it was yesh me’ayin, that is, something from nothing. Righteous people do the opposite: ayin meyesh, making nothing out of something (2). This is called “lighting,” for they purify the material world and cause it to shine so bright that it becomes spiritual.

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1) Rashi, an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (1040-1105), was a French Torah commentator (and grape farmer) who wrote the first comprehensive commentaries on both the Tanakh (Bible) and Talmud. His commentaries are still the starting point for everyone from school children trying to understand the basic meaning of the text to scholars seeking out underlying nuances. His commentary is so respected, even to the point of being considered divinely inspired, that his own words are parsed and interpreted just like words of Torah.   2) At the creation of the world, God turned God’s own spiritual “substance” into physical material (note the difference from the philosophical idea of ex nihilo, creation “from nothing,” in which creation is completed “outside of God,” and truly “from nothing.” In mysticism, there is no such thing as “nothing,” only a return to the divine essence; hence, “nothing” is only a metaphor for the divine essence which defies description.

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