Marc Brettler, My People's Prayer Book (Vol. 1, pg. 45)
“Makes peace and creates everything” Except for the last word, this is a quotation from Isa. 45:7, which reads hara, “trouble,” not hakol, “everything.” The biblical context makes “trouble” a better translation then the usual word, “evil,” because it is juxtaposed with shalom, “peace” in the sense of “tranquility.”
Judith Plaskow, My People's Prayer Book (vol. 1, pgs. 45, 53)
“Makes peace and creates everything” The blessings surrounding the Sh’ma are replete with images of divine power. But here, the liturgy sidesteps the ultimate expression of that power: God’s responsibility for evil. In rendering Isaiah 45:7, “I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil” as “who forms light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates everything,” the Rabbis introduce a euphemism that avoids attributing evil to God. Of course, it is true that “everything” includes woe and evil, but the word conjures—and is probably meant to conjure—the plenitude of creation, rather than its destructive or negative aspects. This alteration of Isaiah raises the question of truth in liturgy. Do we want a liturgy that names the truths of our lives, however painful or difficult they may be, or do we want a liturgy that elevates and empowers, that focuses on the wondrous aspects of creation alone? Are these goals in conflict, or can hearing truth itself be empowering? In The Book of Blessings, Marcia Falk comes down on the side of truth. If God is all in all, she argues, then the divine domain must include the “bad,” and the bad ought to be named. Her blessing here says, “Let us bless the source of life / source of darkness and light / heart of harmony and chaos, / creativity and creation.” What does it mean, however, to pray to a God who is “heart of chaos”? The naming of this truth—that if one God is responsible for the universe, then that God must be responsible for evil—surely elicits feelings of protest as much as reverence. “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham asks God, arguing over the intended destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah (Gen. 18:25). We might pose analogous questions in the context of and in relation to the liturgy as a whole. Shall not the king leave room for his subjects? Shall not the father honor the independence of his children? Is it not our obligation to struggle against the “bad” in the universe, whatever its origins? Thus our prayer might need to be expanded in the direction of protest.
Lawrence Kushner and Nehemiah Polen, My People's Prayer Book (vol. 1, pgs. 45, 51-52)
“Who forms light and creates darkness” If God created the sun and moon and all the heavenly luminaries on the fourth day of creation, then where did the light that God created on the first day come from? The Talmud (Chag. 12a) offers a daring solution, one with far-reaching implications for Jewish spirituality. It suggests that the first light of creation was not optical but spiritual, a light so dazzling that in it Adam and Eve were able to see from one end of space to the other end of time...The Zohar amplifies the legend:
Rabbi Isaac said: “The light created by God in the act of creation flared from one end of the universe to the other and was hidden away, reserved for the righteous in the world to come, as it is written, ‘Light is sown for the righteous’ (Psalm 97:11). Then the worlds will be fragrant, and all will be one. But until the world to come arrives, it is stored and hidden away.”
Rabbi Judah responded: “If the light were completely hidden, the world would not exist for even a moment! Rather, it is hidden and sown like a seed that gives birth to other seeds and fruit. Thereby the world is sustained. Every single day, a ray of that light shines into the world, keeping everything alive; with that ray God feeds the world. And everywhere that Torah is studied at night one thread-thin ray appears from that hidden light and flows down upon those absorbed in it. Since the first day, the light has never been fully revealed, but it is vital to the world, renewing each day the act of Creation.” (Translation, Daniel Matt, The Essential Kabbalah)
If the light of the first day of creation, that light of ultimate awareness, in other words, were to fall into the hands of the wicked, they would use it to destroy the world. (It’s true. If we ourselves could see into the future, we’d make a terrible mess of things!) Yet, if God were to withdraw the light from creation entirely, deprive it of even the possibility of ultimate awareness, the universe would collapse, implode. So how did the Holy One solve the problem? God hid the light, but only for the righteous in the time to come.
Now if that be so, asks Elimelekh of Lizhensk (1717–1787) in his No’am Elimelekh, why do we say here, in the present tense, “Who forms light and creates darkness”? We would expect the blessing to use the past tense, “Who formed light and created darkness.” The explanation, he suggests, is that God—in an act of grace—is continually creating light. And thus, to the righteous the hidden light of creation, ultimate awareness, is revealed each and every day. It appears to them that even as they are discovering light, God is continuously creating it for them. They feel as if they are actually growing into newly fashioned levels of awareness, each brighter than the one before.