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The Hidden Meaning of Darkness by Shoshana Baker

The opening of Masechet Pesachim begins with the discussion of when one must search for Chametz by candlelight. The use of the word ״אור״ light is used to describe the light of the candle and the time of the day for the Bedika/search. The Gemara attempts to understand what ״אור״ means? Are we defining the time period of “״אור״ as night or day? Many verses are used from the Tanach to try and support the notion that ״אור״ is day or night. Most, if not all, of these verses, are rejected as prooftexts and the conclusion is that ״אור״ must be night because it makes the most sense contextually in the Mishnah.


The underlying question is why did the Mishna need to use such ambiguous language? Why did the Mishna choose the word ״אור״ if it meant night? I believe that the answer can be found in the most famous source used, which is about the story of creation. The pasuk reads ״ויקרא אלוק׳ם לאור יום״ /and G-D called to the light, day. Examining just this verse and its simple translation does not provide the answer to our question. Rather, one needs to look back to the earlier verses. After Hashem created the heavens and earth, Hashem says “Let there be light”. After Hashem “saw” that it was good and he separated the light and darkness and concluded by “calling to” them “day” and “night”. The Ramban’s analysis of these verses is the key to our understanding of Chazal in the Mishnah. Light was created on day one before the sun was created on day four. Light was thus independent of the sun. Darkness experienced two stages of creation. In the beginning, darkness was a spontaneous phenomenon created by G-D, unlike the light which was created as something from something -darkness. Light was simply the absence of darkness. The question HaShem had during creation was can light and darkness function in disorder? With the introduction of time, Hashem’s ultimate goal would only be determined by the separation of light and darkness. As Hashem separated Darkness and Light, order was created and Hashem declared them to be good. He brought them into a permanent state qualified by time as we understand, as weeks, days and hours. Hashem completed the creation story of light and darkness by calling to them as “day” and “night”. Darkness was thus transformed from a natural growth of Hashem to a complete and perfect form. Ramban believed the act of pure creation happened only on the first day. Everything that followed was the natural development that hashem put into motion. According to the Ramban, there are three stages in the creation of the world: בריאה, יצירה & עשיה. The translation of the words are not applicable and I will therefore use a metaphor describing the process of making a clay pot.  The creation of the clay is like the creation of the darkness-it is בריאה, a creation of something from nothing. The imagination and energy required to form it into a round shape is יצירה, -darkness given a specific domain-something from something. The third and final stage is forging a final structure into its defined shape. That is עשיה-darkness becoming night.


Perhaps these three nuances of creation are parallel to ביעור, ביטול and בדיקה.  The Torah requires us not to eat chametz, not to benefit from chametz and not to see chametz These negative commandments lead chazal to the idea of בל יראה ובל ימצא. There are therefore three processes we must do that are necessary for the fulfillment of the Mitzvah. These three are nullification/ביטול, burning/ביעור and checking for chametz/בדיקה. All three steps “create” and guarantee a  world without Chametz. It is with this clarity compared to the light of the candle that we must approach the laws of Pesach. Chazal therefore purposely used the word אור in the Mishnah to remind you of the creation story. Similar to the story of creation, after day one of Matan Torah, the Talmud is the fulfillment of the next two steps of the process   As empowered to explain and fulfill the will of Hashem, Chazal are the conduit for the oral law. The source for Halacha is in the Torah, the בריאה. The interpretation and expounding of the verse are the יצירה and עשייה. Like in the creation of light, all three are necessary for the tradition and Torah to thrive and be everlasting. The reader, the nation of Israel, had to accept these truths before beginning their journey of masechet Pesachim.


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