Ohr • אור
Light in our Northern California garden, JHD

Need a moment of retreat, a micro-Shabbat? Stop and look at some natural light (or at night, go out and look at the night sky).

I have always been transfixed by light. Gazing at the dappled sunlight and shadow in a creek near my house, watching the sunlight dance and sparkle on a pool of water, or contemplating the changing hues of a sunset or sunrise, all of these rays of light seem to connect immediately to my soul.

We experience light both physically and spiritually. On a physical level, sunlight is necessary for photosynthesis, growth, and for life on earth to exist. Light sets our body clocks and regulates our circadian rhythms. On a symbolic level, light has a universal meaning of goodness, awakening, and hope, associated with warmth and healing.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols by Ellen Frankel and Betsy Platkin Teutsch, describes light as a pervasive symbol in Jewish theology and tradition, where it is “the primary link between divine and human worlds.” Since God’s first act of creation is to create light, light is associated with creative power. In mystical thought, divinity is pictured as a source of endless light: Ohr Ein Sof. Light is a symbol of Torah, “For a commandment is a lamp, and Torah is light.” (Proverbs 6:23). Light also has a moral association; the people of Israel are called upon to be an ethical example, “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 24:6).


Meander down the path in this Gateway of Light to explore the symbol of light in Jewish tradition and in your life.

Light in Jewish Mysticism

There are many Jewish mystical concepts and doctrines that center on the metaphor of light. Classic Kabbalistic works often have names that focus on light, such as Sefer Ha-Bahir (the Book of Brightness) or the Zohar (the Brilliance). Ohr Ein Sof (Infinite, “Never-ending” Light) is the name for the divine light that emanated from the Ein Sof (the Infinite Godhead) at creation.

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Sacred Ritual: Lighting Shabbat Candles

Shabbat, the Sabbath, and Jewish holidays all begin with the kindling of lights in the home. By lighting candles, we emulate God, whose first act of creation was making light, and we reveal the hidden light by welcoming in Shabbat, a day-long taste of the Garden of Eden, of the Messianic Era of harmony and peace.

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Candle-Lighting and Personal Prayer

After completing the candle blessing is a wonderful time to gaze into the warm and peaceful lights of Shabbat, and to offer a personal prayer for loved ones or wherever your concerns are directed. This was the realm of traditional women’s prayers (techinot), prayers uttered from the heart when lighting candles or performing other mitzvot associated with women, but need not be limited to women. Shabbat candle-lighting is also a great time to gather loved ones around and offer them words of blessing along with a hug and a kiss.

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Noah’s Skylight: When Things are Dark, Allow In a Little Light

I love watching the interplay of light filtered through green leaves onto water, the sparkling diamonds of light on the gurgling stream. Light can only be appreciated as it balances and plays with darkness, with shadow.Our lives, too, have periods of light and dark. We go through dark moods of sadness, the valleys of the shadow (Psalm 23), the dark night of the soul.

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The Hidden Holiness of the Secular New Year

Joy for its own sake, laughter and conviviality without pretext, meeting time’s advance with unapologetic delight, raucous noise, good friends — these are nothing less than the eruption of the hidden light cracking the conventional crust of our mature good sense, our dehumanizing obsession with control, our idolatrous reliance on possession as salvation.

— Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson

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Light in Jerusalem

Something about the atmosphere in Jerusalem makes me feel like my feet aren’t quite touching the ground, even when my sandals are covered with dust. If people are not looking I find it hard to resist the desire to take off with a few dancing steps. Maybe it’s the constant scent of pine trees, or the mountain air “clear as wine.” Perhaps it is the beauty of light dancing on stones or shimmering on olive bark.

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Light a Candle; Don’t Curse the Darkness

It is all too easy to see so many situations in the world—on the local or global scale—that seem dark and bleak. Consider the old proverb, “Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” Find one step that you can take for light,for healing, and do it today. read more…

Sharing Circle: Light

Hidden & Revealed

Revealed Light: Has the light of a certain landscape revealed something in your soul? What experiences of light do you treasure?

Hidden Light: Where have you found a “hidden” light? In learning, spiritual practice, deeds? Or perhaps guiding your own creativity? In making Shabbat? read more…

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