The first blessing before the Shacahrit Shema has the words

יוצר אור ובורא חשך

My understanding is that the two words יוצר and בורא are synonymous meaning "create". However, I gather that there is a slight nuance in the word יוצר in that it means "to fashion" or "to make a form (shape)".

What is the difference in meaning, generally? More specifically why are these specific words applied to the two items. I.e., why does light get the term יוצר and darkness get the term בורא ?

  • 2
    I would imagine a good starting point may be to check the commentaries on Yeshaya 45:7
    – Joel K
    Oct 18, 2017 at 14:01
  • 1
    Go even further back. בורא is used all throughout Bereishis 1, while יוצר is used all throughout Bereishis 2. Check the commentaries on those - especially Rav Hirsch.
    – DonielF
    Oct 18, 2017 at 14:46
  • @JoelK Thanks again for the verse. See my answer. If you can elaborate, per my request at its end, that would be terrific.
    – DanF
    Oct 18, 2017 at 19:15
  • @DonielF I don't have access to Rav Hirsch. If he adds something that answers my request at the end of my answer, below, please edit it in.
    – DanF
    Oct 18, 2017 at 19:16

3 Answers 3


Thanks to @JoelK for referring the verse in Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 45:7, which is where these words are found (besides the siddur, of course.)

The full expression in Isaiah is

יוצר אור ובורא חשך עושה שלום ובורא רע

Rough translation:

"He fashions light and creates darkness; makes peace and creates evil."

Rada"k commentary explains that the term יוצר is used for light and עושה for peace because these things must be formed or made (I don't know why the term יוצר isn't repeated for peace, but, that may be nothing more than Nach"s poetic "parallelism", here.) However, for darkness and evil, the term בורא is used because these are not actual things but rather the removal of something that exists. Darkness is the removal (absence) of light and evil is the removal (absence) of peace.

I'm inferring that as a general rule, the term יוצר is used for the fashioning of something new. However, in relating the term בורא to the "absence" of something, I don't see how that can be generalized or how Rada"k determines this. I'd appreciate if someone can edit in an explanation of this nuance.

  • I’m unsure of the distinction between יצירה and עשייה, but עושה typically means to fashion out of raw material while בורא refers to creation ex nihilo. So perhaps since you’re not actually forming darkness out of anything (because it’s a lack of something else) it’s more appropriate to say it’s been נברא, as if out of nothing. But it still begs the question of why it’s not made (עושה) out of light.
    – DonielF
    Oct 18, 2017 at 21:15
  • Ibn Ezra says the same thing there.
    – mevaqesh
    Oct 24, 2017 at 5:24
  • @mevaqesh Where is "there"?
    – DanF
    Oct 24, 2017 at 14:06
  • Isaiah 45:7....
    – mevaqesh
    Oct 24, 2017 at 14:10

Rav Hirsch, on Bereishs1:1 explains

ברא means bringing something into reality which hitherto had only existed inwardly, in the mind. It is creating something purely out of ones mind and will and nothing else.

Rav Hirsch then explains יצר in Bereishis 2:7

וַיִּ֩יצֶר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה:

And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul.

Rav Hirsch says:

יצר is to the material what יסר is to the spirit and feelings. Both mean to confine spiritual or material matter in a fixed direction for a fixed purpose. The one is the business of spiritual and moral education and culture, the other the formation shaping material matter. Both again are related to ישר which means the shortest and most direct direction to an end: the straight line.

Once light was created, then it overwhelmed the universe, Hashem had to form it and restrict it in order to create darkness (which had been completely banished). Shalom as a spiritual and social phenomena had to be made rather than formed from a preexisting condition. Ra, on the other hand, having been banished by the building of the stable equilibrium of Shalom, again had to have the possibility of its existence created anew.

יצר is to the material

  • R. Hirsch always had some interesting take. I have to digest this one a bit further, as it is a bit complex for me to understand the first time. I'll probably follow up this question with another one, as I really don't understand Radak's explanation. I discussed that with my rav, this morning, and we were both puzzled by it. You're welcome to try to figure it out. I don't think this answer explains how Rada"k's explanation fits into the general explanation of the word difference.
    – DanF
    Oct 20, 2017 at 14:54
  • @DanF I tend to concentrate on Rav Hirsch or use modern commentary like Nechama Leibowitz, Rabbi Frand, Rabbi Sacks, Rabbi Reisman. Of course, Rambam.Rashi, Ramban also. Oct 20, 2017 at 15:05
  • @DanF I think that יוצר is used for light because it is part of the physical universe. שלום, on the other hand, describes the relationships between people and is a social construct or a balancing. As a result, it would seem to fit עושה better. This seems to be the way I would read Rada"k, though I do not know for sure if this would be a valid explanation. Oct 23, 2017 at 16:30

I just did look at the chapter metsiut Hashem in the sefer Kad Hakemach from Rabbenu Bechaye. He says that in Yeshaya 45

וכן כתיב יוצר אור הבורא חושך, והזכיר חושך אצל הבריאה והזכיר אור אצל היצירה לברר כי בריאה נאמר על עניין גופני והיצירה על עניין שכלי

If I understand correctly, the word light does not reffer only to a physical concept of electromagnetic waves but the tool necessary to get knowledge, from physical perception to truth understanding. Darkness is the materiality, a screen separating from viewing true causes, spirituality.

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