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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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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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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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Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that the light created on the 1st day was that of the sun itself but was not sufficient to provide light to the entire earth, which was only given on the 4th day. To support this he brings the posuk 17 which says: "And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth", implying that at this point God gave them power to provide light upon all earth.

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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.)

  • "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
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    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
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I'm aware that the following might sound too simplistic for those looking for more "scientific" answers but Rav Avigdor Miller repeated this question constantly in his lectures and he would give the following answer but with more depth. Hashem created the sunlight on the first day without creating the sun as the source for the light. It was only on the fourth day that He put the sun into place so that it would (appear) to be the source of the light. Of course, the way we see and know it, it is the sun that gives off the sunlight but Hashem was teaching us that really the sun is only hiding the truth which is that it is Hashem who is providing us with the light and the sun is doing it's (pretty good) job of hiding the fact that Hashem is the real source. Rav Miller spoke out this concept in more detail than I write here but it sounded very similar to way the Bal Hatanya explains the concept of Hashem Echad in Likutei Amarim (chapters 21-22)

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    Hashem created the sunlight on the first day without creating the sun as the source for the light. What made it sunlight then? – mevaqesh Oct 30 '16 at 4:40
  • @mevaqesh By "sunlight" I mean - what would be viewed as sunlight by human beings who were created after the sun had already been put in place to hide the Ribono Shel Olam in the "tevah". – Mark A. Oct 30 '16 at 10:11
  • To summarize: the sun only appears to produce electromagnetic radiation, whereas in reality, unlike all other stars in the universe that do so, in accordance with the laws of physics, the sun only appears to follow the laws of physics, whereas in reality, by a wholly miraculous phenomenon, electromagnetic radiation comes from the sun, but isn't produced by it. This seems like the very opposite of Occam's razor. Once it is agreed that its production of radiation is consistent with the laws of physics, then claiming that it comes out of the sun, and behaves consistently with the [cont.] – mevaqesh Oct 30 '16 at 15:28
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    [cont.] laws of a normal star, then saying that really its not the star producing the radiation, becomes almost a meaningless overly obfuscatory semantic point. One could say the same thing about a particular light-bulb. Every light bulb in the world operates following the laws of physics. Except this one, which totally mimics all the laws of physics, but isn't actually following them. || Additionally the claim that we are to learn some lesson from this, seems difficult, as it seems like the only way to appreciate the lesson is with illogical thinking, and furthermore, we would have [cont.] – mevaqesh Oct 30 '16 at 15:32
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    @MarkA. So the laws of physics do nothing ever. It's just God doing the exact same thing as the laws of physics. (See how that's just a word game to describe the exact same thing?) – Double AA Oct 31 '16 at 17:34

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