Is G-d Darkness as well as Light?
Updated: Apr 3
I was listening to a song the other day by the American Jewish singer Benny Friedman. The song is “Todah,” which means thanks in Hebrew. It’s a catchy tune giving thanks to G-d for everything. I love the song and the upbeat rhythm. But it contains a few stanzas that speak to the Jewish thought that G-d is not only light, but darkness too.
And I’ve never been able to wrap my head around that belief. There is no darkness with G-d…is there? I’ve always been taught to associate darkness with evil, with hidden things, with sin crouching in the shadows hiding from illumination. And yet, this song of thanksgiving had this to say:
Todah –my thanks to You
My life – is all from You
The light is You, the darkness too
You! You! You!
In the Maariv Aravim prayer, the blessing that is recited before the Shema, there is a verse that says, “Borei yom valailah, goleil or mipnei choshech, v’choshech mipnei or.” (You are Creator of day and night, rolling light away from the darkness and darkness from light.) I know in the creation sense, yes, G-d created day and night, and evening and morning were the first day, as it says in Genesis. But this creation of darkness goes further than just the physical in this belief. Friedman says, “The light is You, the darkness too…” How can our G-d be both?
And yet, Isaiah 45:6-7 says, “So that those from the east and those from the west will know that there is none besides me – I am Adonai, there is no other. I form light, I create darkness.…” Esther D. Kustanowitz says in her article on My Jewish Learning that, “This concept of light and dark being parts of each other, one rolled away to make room for the other, is as true of physical light and dark as it is of hope and sorrow….With every rolling of light away from darkness, there is a rolling of darkness away from light. Each is not the other, but each depends on the other.”
I think that I’m beginning to understand this somewhat, although I feel there are some things I’m still not grasping. He is in everything. It doesn’t matter if we’re the cause of the curses that befall us, he works in light and darkness (our dark nights of the soul is the only way I can put it), doing as he will to fulfill his purposes and plans. All things work together for his glory. In this sense, even the darkness can be said to be inhabited by G-d as we come through it to light.
But even this explanation doesn’t satisfy my question…is G-d light and darkness? Perhaps it’s not the concept that is so hard to understand, but the limitations of our language that make it difficult to comprehend. G-d is not the darkness in the sense of evil. But G-d is the darkness in the sense that even darkness can be its own positive force. Out of the glare of light, we may be less blinded to those things that G-d is trying to show us. In darkness there is no façade we have to maintain, no mask we have to put on. We are free to examine our hearts and our souls away from the scrutiny of others, free to confront the pain that we hide from the world.
In this sense, there is an order to the ebb and flow of light, of hope, strength, faith, joy…when the darkness comes, it’s hard. But in this eternal rolling away of light and darkness from each other, we know that the darkness is not forever, that light comes, that hope is always present. Perhaps we need the darkness as much as the light. Perhaps its in the darkness, when we feel the most vulnerable, that we appreciate even more the love, the comfort, and the peace that the light brings. But even more so, perhaps it’s in the darkness that the desire and need for our Creator is revealed more fully.
I still don’t understand this concept entirely, but I have come to accept that yes, “the light is You, the darkness too.” He is in all, and it is his light that leads me through the darkness.