Light vs Darkness

God called the light day and the darkness He called night… (Genesis 1:5)

Rabbi Elijah of Vilna, known as the Gaon (genius) of Vilna used this verse from the beginning of the Torah to illuminate a passage from King Solomon’s book of Ecclesiastes:

And I perceived that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness (2:13).

What is the advantage of light over darkness? We can see that the verse describing the creation of light and darkness only associates God explicitly with light. For darkness, the verse merely alludes to God by saying, ‘He’.

When Solomon said that wisdom has an advantage over folly like the advantage of light over darkness, the point is that the perspective of wisdom grasps that there is a God that supervises all existence. The perspective of folly is that there is only nature and no God.

The Vilna Gaon writes that with this idea, we can explain a perplexing passage in the Haggadah* of Passover.

In the section describing four different types of children, the wise child asks, “What are the testimonies, the statutes and the ordinances that Hashem, our God has commanded you?” The wicked child asks, “What is this service to you?”

Numerous commentators ask what the real difference is between the question of the wise child and that of the wicked one.

The Gaon of Vilna answered that that the main difference is that the wise child’s question mentions the Name of God. The wicked child makes no mention of Him.

In the creation account, God is associated with light, but not with darkness. Ecclesiastes notes that this also determines the difference between wisdom and folly. The Gaon of Vilna points out that this is what distinguishes the wise child from the wicked one in the Passover Haggadah.

* The book of readings used at the Passover Seder (meal)

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