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According to Genesis 1:3, "And G-d said, Let there be light; and there was light." What light is the Torah referring to if the sun which produces light by day was created only on the 4th day of creation?

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3 Answers 3

From a hard science background, I can tell you that Maxwell's laws of electromagnetism set up the initial conditions for light to not only exist, but also become mandatory.

G-d saying "let there be light" can from this perspective been seen as a metaphor for G-d inscribing the necessary laws of physics upon the space-time fabric so that light may occur. Then, since in physics everything which is optional is mandatory, light then had to appear because cause the conditions were now right for it's appearance.

(Slight correction: the description of our own space-time fabric itself includes Maxwell's equations. Therefore, when G-d created the universe by creating the space-time fabric with the laws we presently understand, light then automatically happened, because Maxwell's equations also describe the existence of light. Therefore, G-d spoke math, translating into more common terms as 'let there be light'. That's how I understand it.)

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"everything which is optional is mandatory" Do you mean this in a quantum mechanical sort of way? –  Double AA Nov 10 '13 at 0:07
It's a basic principle of physics which I learned in engineering school. It's not based on quantum mechanics. Essentially, it means that if the laws of physics allow a phenomenon, than that phenomenon has to have already occurred at least once in our universe. It's one of those if and only if things. Read the other way, if we fail to observe something happening the way the math predicts, then the math is wrong. –  Aule Nov 10 '13 at 0:30
That is definitely not a principle of physics... –  Double AA Nov 10 '13 at 0:39
It is where I learned it. Where did you learn physics? –  Aule Nov 10 '13 at 5:49
The laws of physics allow the phenomenon whereby a galaxy precisely identical to the current Milky Way Galaxy with the one change that my user name was always Double BB, spins around like usual. Yet such an event has never happened, nor is likely to happen in the future. –  Double AA Nov 10 '13 at 5:52

You're assuming that the passage is only concerned with the creation of physical stuff, but verse 2 makes clear that everything was messed up chaos.

My opinion: Perhaps on day one, the laws of the universe were created: the existence of light, forces (e.g. gravity), matter, time etc. That's a faithful reading of the verse because it says 'Let there be light', not 'let there be a thing that produces light'.

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The Gemara (Chagigah 12a) records a debate about this. One opinion (R' Elazar and R' Yaakov) is that the light referred to here is an intense light with special powers; G-d afterwards concealed it, realizing that there would be unworthy people who wouldn't deserve to make use of such light, and set it aside as part of the future reward of the righteous.

The other opinion (the majority view) is that the light created on the first day is the same as that we get from the sun and other heavenly bodies. The verse tells us G-d created them on the first day, and then placed them in their proper positions on the fourth day. (See also this question.)

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The Kli Yakar mentions both of these solutions in Parshas Breishis. –  Gershon Gold Dec 7 '10 at 18:12
I often wondered what the chazal meant by Hashem hid the light from the wicked. I formulated some questions over here: mi.yodeya.com/questions/4809/… –  RCW Dec 22 '10 at 6:27
See also adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1995astro.ph..8159B re the formation of hydrogen and the end of the Thomson scattering epoch –  Collin Merenoff Sep 2 '11 at 12:46
Or Ganuz........ –  Hacham Gabriel Jan 29 '12 at 15:54

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