The Hebrew Meaning of the ‘Two Great Lights’

On the fourth day of the Creation week, which is called in Hebrew ‘Yom Reviei’ {יום רביעי} (Wednesday), God created the ‘great lights’:

“And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars.” (Genesis 1:14-17)

The common Hebrew word for ‘light’ is ‘Or’ {אור} , but here, in our case, the original Hebrew word for ‘light’ – as in ‘the great lights’ – is ‘Maor’ {מאור} (which is also a very common first name for boys in Israel).

When looking at the Hebrew structure of this word (‘Maor’), a fascinating fact is revealed. This word derived from the same Hebrew root as ‘Or’ {אור} plus the Hebrew prefix ‘Ma’ {מ} which implies of an active factor – or in other words, some sort of power which produced or generated light.

In the English translation of the Bible it was said that ‘God made the two great lights’ -the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.’ However, in the original Hebrew, this phrase appears slightly differently.

There, the ‘two great lights’ are ‘Shenei Ha-Meorot Ha-Gedolim’ {שני המאורות הגדולים} and ‘the greater light and the lesser light’ are actually ‘Ha-Maor Ha-Gadol Ve-Ha-Maor Ha-Katon’ {המאור הגדול והמאור הקטן} respectively.

In other words, when one reads the original Hebrew it appears that first God created both of ‘the two great lights’ to be the SAME size. Only AFTER they were created one finds out that there is one light which is big and one light which is small in absolute terms – since the Hebrew adjective ‘Gadol’ {גדול} means ‘great’ or ‘big’ and does not appear in the original Hebrew text in the comparative form like in English (‘great’ or ‘big’ in the original Hebrew and not ‘greater’ as in the English translation).

A very interesting ‘Midrash’ (an old folk Jewish legend) addresses this issue in a unique way, which can teach us a valuable lesson on being modest: In the beginning God created the ‘two great lights’ to be the same size (as can be understood from the original Hebrew). Then the moon said: “There is no need for TWO EQUALLY SIZED great lights because the light that is required during the day is much bigger than the light at night.”And the reply for the moon was: “You are right, therefore you will be ‘Ha-Maor Ha-Katon’ {המאור הקטן} (‘the lesser light’)…”