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Chapter One

Light Years Beyond

And God said, ĎLet there be light!í And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and He made a separation between the light and the darkness. Genesis 1:3-5
The Light that The Holy One, Blessed is He, created on the First Day, Adam could see with it from the end of the world until its [other] end. Talmud Chagigah, 12a

And God saw the light that it was good, and He made a separation ... He saw that it was not fitting for the evil to use, so He separated it for the Righteous in the Time-to-Come. Rashi, Genesis 1:4

Without the aid of artificial assistance, our ability to see is limited. We canít peek around corners without first turning one, and we canít see for miles in the distance without a telescope. Even on the sunniest day, the clearest of air, and the best of eyesight, at some point everything simply disappears into the horizon.

That was, of course, after the primordial light of creation was hidden (the light we use was created on the fourth day). According to the Talmud, with this light oneís vision was unlimited, allowing one to see from "one end of the world until the other." It is certainly hard to imagine exactly what this means, until you consider the following:

"The nation that walks in darkness sees the Great Light." (Isaiah 9:1). These are the people who learn Talmud - they see the Great Light for the Holy One, Blessed is He, enlightens their eyes regarding the permissible and the non-permissible, the pure and the impure, in the Time-to-Come. (Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Noach 3)
In Torah there are basically two types of commandments: judgments and statutes. The judgments are usually those commandments that we ourselves could reason out, usually because life demands such guidelines, such as "donít steal," or "donít commit murder."

Statutes, on the other hand, do not easily reveal their Divine Wisdom. As Rashi puts it, they are the types of commandments for which "rational" people usually laugh at the Jewish nation, (Numbers, 19:1) commandments such as not cooking meat and milk together, or not wearing a garment made from a blend of wool and linen. Most of the Torahís laws regarding things not-permissible and the whole idea of spiritual purity fit into the category of statutes.

Learning the Talmud, specifically the Babylonian Talmud, leads to an understanding of these laws. This is identified as leading to the "Great Light". To "walk" through the Talmud (called "darkness"because its discussions of law often seem unending) is to walk towards the Great Light, which, apparently is a light of understanding. (A more comprehensive discussion of the "Hidden Light of Understanding" can be found in Patterns in Time - Chanukah by Rabbi Matis Weinberg, page 241.)

It is fascinating that the number of hours for which the original light of creation, the light that provided a view of the entire world in one eyeshot, shone for 36 hours, (Talmud Yerushalmi, Brochos 8:5) the number of volumes of Babylonian Talmud. Perhaps this explains why God approaches Adam, after he commits the mistake of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil before eating from the Tree of Life, with a statement significant for its numerical value: 36: (Midrash Zuta, Eichah 1:1)

And God said to him [Adam], ĎAiyeka?í (Where are you?) (Genesis 3:9)

Alef= 1; Yud = 10; Kaf = 20; Heh = 5
1 + 10 + 20 + 5 = 36

All of this is an allusion to the essence of what was destroyed by Adamís error and what is re-built by learning the Talmud (which is a process of understanding things difficult to understand).
(The Talmud, incidentally, embodies the Oral Law, which was represented in the Temple by the Menorah. The Ark symbolized the Written Law. The Menorah later became the symbol of Chanukah because it was a victory for those who upheld not just the Written Law, but the Oral Law as well. We light one extra candle each day of Chanukah, which, excluding the shamash, totals 36 candles at the end of the eight days.)

If the Tree of Life represented a framework of understanding that described the principles of all of existence, then this too must be the light that is regained through Talmud study. When God approached Adam and said, "36?", it is a way of stating that Adam, in sacrificing the Tree of Life, also sacrificed the ability to see from "one end of the world until the other end," to understand all the details of existence.

To know the entire framework of existence is to be able to look at a single detail within that framework and see within it an expression of the central principle of all of existence. By looking at a single "thread" of creation, one could see from one end of the tapestry until the other. What a light of understanding that is!

Eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil without first eating from the Tree of Life revealed to Adam details of creation. But without a framework from which to refer, he could only see their potential for good and bad; he could not clearly see what constituted good or bad until after the fact. Terrorized by the potential to err, Adam and Eve ran for cover, and clothing.

To learn Talmud is to reconstruct the tapestry of creation (hence, each volume is called a "tapestry") - an accurate framework of intellectual understanding. The Talmud is concerned with extracting the essence of the commandments, with revealing the wisdom of Godís "instructions for living."

But to reveal "hidden light" means to walk first in darkness. It means to struggle, to grope, to blindly feel oneís way around concepts and ideas that may not, at first, make sense. It means to patiently walk in darkness in search of a light at the end of the tunnel. It means temporarily passing up the easily accessible knowledge until after wisdom is first attained. (Maimonides refers to secular studies as "dessert" after the "meal". The point of dessert is not to satiate, but to accent the meal that was previously eaten. Eat the dessert before the main course, and you spoil your appetite for the real food. Eat the dessert after the meal, and you enjoy both.)

This is the story of the Jewish people - in our learning, and in truth, throughout our history. But,

The nation that walks in darkness sees the Great Light. (Isaiah 9:1)
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