The Gemara in Masekhet Avoda Zara (8a) tells that on the first day Adam was created – the same day on which, according to rabbinic tradition, he partook of the forbidden fruit – he became frightened when the sun set. Having yet to experience the day-night cycle, Adam assumed that the newly-created world was coming to an end, that because of his violation of God’s command, God was destroying the earth. After crying in angst the entire night, he finally spotted new rays of light over the eastern horizon. Adam then understood that the world operates on a cycle of light followed by darkness, and his fears were allayed.
It has been suggested that this account of Adam’s experiences serves as an allegorical depiction of the cycle of “light” and “darkness” that so often characterizes our lives. Sometimes, as life “darkens,” we feel, as Adam did, that our world is coming apart, that we are permanently condemned to “darkness,” to hardship and gloom. On some occasions, as in the case of Adam, the “darkness” into which we find ourselves plunged resulted from our mistakes, the consequences of which appear to condemn us to perpetual darkness. The story told of Adam teaches us that darkness is followed by light, that hardship does not endure forever, that there is always hope for a brighter future no matter how dark the present appears.
A famous tradition cited by the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berakhot 8:5) tells of what happened on the second night of Adam’s life – which was Motza’ei Shabbat. On that night, the Yerushalmi relates, God showed Adam how to kindle fire, thereby providing him with a means of illumination during the dark of night. This tradition, of course, is the reason why we recite a special berakha over the light of a candle as part of the havdala service on Motza’ei Shabbat. Symbolically, the discovery of fire on Adam’s second night of life points to the fact that we are endowed with the capability to illuminate our darkness, to overcome hardship and distress to some degree and in some way. God has shown us that alongside our faith in the “light” that will ultimately shine, we are also able and expected to kindle our own “light,” to work towards alleviating our pain and improving our plight. In virtually any situation of “darkness,” there is at least one small “candle” that we can light, a way to make the situation at least slightly better. As we patiently wait and pray with faith, hope and optimism for the “darkness” to end, we should also be working to “brighten” our world in whatever small way we can, trusting in our God-given power to bring some light to even the darkest periods of life.