Parshas Bereishis: Light and Darkness

This week’s Parsha, Bereishis, is the first in the Torah. It’s also probably the best known, for it tells the tale of creation. In six days, Hashem creates darkness and light, the heavens, the land and the waters surrounding it, the sun and moon, the animals, and man and woman. Each of Hashem’s creations has it’s own special, unique purpose. For example, the luminaries in the sky are to calculate the times of the festivals, and the wild beasts of the Earth are for man to rule over and put to good use. It’s impossible to deny that each of the things Hashem brings to life, or into being, over the first six days, is essential. It’s necessary. It’s unique. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have created it. But what about the seventh day? Why should Hashem create a day- but not do anything with it? Why is this day special, remembered in an everlasting covenant between the Jewish people and their G-d?
At first glance, the seventh day looks like the day on which Hashem did not create anything. But in fact, it was on this day that he devised the most important invention of all. Menuchah. What is menuchah? Quite simply; rest. Renewal. It’s the all-important break, without which, sustained activity and creativity would be impossible. Could we live without the sun, the moon, the waters of the earth, or the vegetables and animals? No. But they are physical, material things. Shabbos, and, indeed, menuchah, is the absence of such a thing. It’s the ”nothing” which makes the ”something” special. It’s a gift; a great gift, and one bestowed only to the Jewish people. While all the nations of the  world share one Earth, and indeed one Heavens, Shabbos is unique, exclusive. It’s an end- an end to the week- but it’s also a beginning. Inspiration and renewal begin with Shabbos. The oasis in time is truly an oasis for the body as well as the soul.
And yet, Shabbos was the last thing G-d created. The first things were darkness and light. Darkness can be useful, necessary even. It’s darkness which allows certain plants to grow, and animals to thrive, and darkness which helps us set our schedules and usher in the festivals. But symbolically, darkness is rarely a positive. More often than not, it represents a lack of positivity. And what is this positivity? Light. Light from the sun. Light from the fire of the Torah. Light from a Jewish soul. And the light we are shrouded by each week, by the aura of the Shabbos candles. In this way, both Hashem’s first and last inventions are linked. Shabbos candles represent both creation- the creation of heat and light- and rest- for they mark the halachic beginning of the day of rest.
To paraphrase the Rebbe zt”l, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Lubavitch, when we find ourselves living in dark times, we must increase the amount of light. How can we do this? By lighting shabbos candles. This mitzvah applies mainly to women, though adult men light candles if there are no women present. By lighting two candles (or more- mainly women add an extra candle for each of their children) and reciting the brocha, a woman can help bring peace not just to herself and her family but also to Israel. Just as in the times of Noah, corruption and violence were rife, we are living in days of immorality, anti-Semitism and crime. Just one extra mitzvah- one extra woman lighting Shabbos candles- could bring about the Redemption and the coming of Moshiach. Just as Bereishis marked the beginning of creation, this will mark the beginning of the World to Come.
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