There is a tension between those who understand the Torah literally, and those who choose instead to interpret the words of the Torah as allegory, a symbolical narrative.
The problem with both of these understandings is that they miss the point. The Torah is not a history textbook, but its words are similarly not indirect poetic references to be understood as a child’s fable. The words of the Torah are from G-d, which means that every word has a purpose, that every letter contains a world of meaning.
Take, for example, the very first day of creation. The section ends: “And it was evening, and it was morning, the first day.”
A day is entirely arbitrary. There is no reason why a day cannot start at noon, or midnight, or sunrise or sunset. The Torah, by telling us that the first day was measured by “evening and morning” was not telling us a historical fact: it was telling us a spiritual truth. And what truth would this be?
The answer, as with so much else in the Torah, is right in front of us.
And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
Light is used to see things, to understand and perceive. Light is energy – darkness is the absence of energy. And light is good.
G-d is not telling us, in the very opening phrases of the Torah, the physics behind the creation of light. Nor is he spinning a riddle whose meaning is too deep for comprehension.
Likewise, saying that a day starts with evening is not a statement about an underlying physical fact, and it is not impenetrable poetry.
Instead, G-d is using the Torah, here, and everywhere else, to teach us, to tell us how to live our lives. Saying that the day is counted from evening through morning has a very simple lesson: We who follow G-d are to live every day as if morning follows evening, that light follows darkness.
And so as we live out each day, we should see ourselves as starting in the dark, and move toward the light – toward the rise of the sun in the morning. We should grow, every day toward light, for all that it represents: truth, perception, understanding, and energy. And we should grow each day toward the light because the Torah tells us, “And God saw the light, that it was good.”
Light is not merely the visible energy spectrum. Light is something we use to perceive something else. As our instruments improve, we have more light in the world – because we can see things that could not be seen before. In a way, we are bringing the world of infrared and X-rays into the visible spectrum we call light because we can now perceive those things.
The Torah tells us that light came into the world before the sun – again, not because the Torah is a physics textbook, but so that we are not confused into seeing the sun – which is, after all, merely generating light as an agent of its Creator – as a deity in itself. Light, of all kinds and from all sources, is Good.