Light, ultimately, is an expression of oneness. Life, ultimately, is about yearning toward that oneness.
There is an incredible story about a rabbi named Meir who lived 1,900 years ago. Rabbi Meir was a scribe. He meticulously wrote out the precious words of the Torah. Each letter was written with ultimate care. No mistakes were tolerated. But Rabbi Meir’s Torah didn’t look like everyone else’s. Right after Adam and Eve sinned and God cursed them, the Torah tells us: “God made coats of skin for Adam and for his wife…(Gen 3:21).”
Rabbi Meir’s Torah read: “God made coats of light for Adam and his wife…” (Genesis Rabbah 20:12). How could this be?
In Hebrew the word for skin “’or” sounds a lot like the word for light “or”. In fact, only one letter separates them – an ayin for an aleph. But that one letter makes all the difference. And that one letter is what Rabbi Meir switched in his Torah. This wasn’t just a random error, but a statement about the essence of life. In Hebrew, each letter has a numerical value. Ayin, the first letter of “skin,” is 70. Aleph, the first letter of “light,” is 1. Rabbi Meir switched from many to one. For the rabbis, 70 is the ultimate symbol of dis-unity. The world is filled with 70 nations. People speak 70 languages. But the real goal is to unify—to return to the light, to the one.
Rabbi Meir’s name literally means “shows light.” In his Torah, he did exactly that, reminding us that dis-unity is only skin deep. The opportunity to renew, to respond to curses with light, to yearn toward a world of one, is the real blessing of human life.
Rabbi Elie Kaunfer is executive director of Mechon Hadar and author of Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities. www.mechonhadar.org.