Before creation only the light of Ein Sof, the Infinite One, existed. With the creation of heaven and earth, darkness was created. ‘… and darkness was upon the surface of the deep …’, says Bereshit 1:2. The infinite Light was hidden in darkness. But is there a real separation, a real distinction between light and darkness?
On Tisha b’Av we read Echa, Lamentations, in the dark. We mourned the destruction of the temple. Tisha b’Av happens in summer , the lightest time of the year. There is an old custom in Italy to keep the candle by which we read Echa in the dark till Hanuka, to light the first Hanuka candle. At Hanuka we celebrate the rededication of the temple. It happens around the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year. Light and darkness are interwoven in creation as yin and yang. The whole Jewish year is intended to see the Light in darkness.
According to the Zohar, right after creation the world was still illuminated by the infinite Light, and Adam could see from one end of the earth to the other. Only after people sinned, the Light was hidden and changed into Or Ganuz, the hidden light. But though it is hidden, it still exists, like the sun still exists when the earth has turned and we are at the night side. Often we don’t see the Light. But in our better moments our soul, the divine spark in us, can see something of it, and is our darknes not that dark any more. Like haShem showing this light to David who burst forth into praise: ‘How abundant is thy goodness …!’.
We only can see the candles of Hanuka against a background of darkness. The candle in the desert at noon, of which the Sufi mystic Rumi speaks, does not give that much joy. We can only see the Milky Way at night, when we are far from the city, preferably in a not illuminated desert. Moshe had to enter the dark cloud to speak with haShem. Mystics speak of the dark night of the soul, the spiritual crisis we experience on our way to union with haShem. In darkness the seed begins to grow in the earth.
The Chesed l’Avraham pointed out that the letters of the Hebrew word eight (the number of days the oil continued to burn), שמנה shemone, can spell the word oil, השמן hashemen. The same letters can form the word נשמה, neshama, soul. The flames of Hanuka, which we light in the darkest time of the year, are the beginning of a new spiritual year cycle of tikkun hanefesh, the healing of the soul. May our darkness be as illuminating as our light. May the night shine like the day, and the darkness be clear as the light (Tehillim 139:12).