I’m fascinated by the imagery of light in spirituality. Particularly regarding humans, and the description of “enlightened” people as reflecting light. Would you possibly elaborate on this?
This is a scintillating question and I’d be happy to shed some light on the topic!
Clearly, G‑d is viewed as the energizing source or force behind all Existence. For this reason, G‑d, G‑d’s influence and G‑dliness are all naturally perceived as, and portrayed with, imagery of the sun, energy, and light.
Therefore, people who are “closer” to this source or influence or quality are viewed as receiving or reflecting this energy and light to a greater degree than others.
A prime example of this is regarding Moshe’s receiving the Torah (Exodus 34:29–30): “And it came to pass when Moshe descended from Mount Sinai, and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moshe’s hand….that Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moshe, and behold, the skin of his face had become radiant, and they were afraid to come near him”.
This may be similar to an intensely radiant halo. It’s very interesting, in fact, that the English terms for this phenomenon are nearly identical to the ancient Hebrew words. “Halo” is as in the verse, “Hilo [His light] aley roshi [is upon my head]” (Job 29:3); and “aura” is as in the Hebrew word “ora” which also means light.
However, according to ancient Jewish sources, even more than reflecting from the Source, this sacred light radiating from the righteous is viewed as actually emanating from It.
Thus, the illustrious medieval theologian, philosopher and poet Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi (1075 Spain-1171 Israel) in his famous Kuzari (4:15) on the fundamental beliefs of Judaism, illuminates the relationship between G‑d and humanity with the analogy of the sun to stones on the earth. Light is radiated from the sun equally to all. The relationship of this light to the different types of rocks varies not according to the light, which is constant, but rather to the various qualities of the stones. Some are opaque and occluded, and reveal little of the light; others are luminescent and reflect sparkles of the light; yet others, the precious, polished gems, are translucent, such that their pristine purity enables them to become infused with the light, which penetrates them and is transmitted through them.
So too, coarse human beings reveal little of the sacred light. More refined people reflect the sacred light externally. However, the light seen emanating from the truly elevated, pious and pure individuals, like polished, precious, translucent gems, is actually His Light shining through them from the “other side”. And His Light projected through them is via the divine soul, as in the verse, “Man’s soul is the candle of G‑d” (Pr. 20:27). Thus, their soul is actually His flame, His Light.
According to this explanation, the light emanating from Moshe was not a “reflection” of his closeness to G‑d. It was G‑d’s light itself shining from within him. For this reason, the people could not gaze upon that light, as one cannot gaze upon the light of the sun.
This also explains another enigmatic teaching. The Talmudic Sages taught (Gen. Raba 8:9) that when Man (the initial, singular, composite being of Adam and Eve) was created, the angels mistook him for G‑d and were inclined to express the Holiness of G‑d before him. The question is, as Holy as Man was before the sin, how could the angels have possibly confused him with G‑d Himself? However, Jewish mystical teachings (Zohar, Pekudei 168) explain that the Torah’s description of G‑d clothing Adam and Eve in garments of skin after they became exposed by sin (Gen. 3:21) is actually referring to G‑d clothing their beings with bodily skin. But before then, they were beings of light without physical bodies. And since the pure, pristine light-body of Man was perfectly “translucent”, even the angels, seeing Him through him, mistook him for Him.
And by extension, the light which is visible on or in the righteous is actually a manifestation of their transforming the occluded physical body toward translucence, on the path of restoring the light-body of Man, from which we all derive and which is the perfected state to which we must all aspire.