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WHEN DOES THE DAY BEGIN?

WHEN DOES THE DAY BEGIN?

Saturday, 15 October, 2016 - 5:00 pm

 

The CEO of a Fortune 500 company told his speechwriter, “Next week, I’m making the key presentation at our biggest meeting of the year. It’s a crucial time for our company, and I need to address the themes, vision, and ideals of this firm. I need a killer speech from you. It needs to be dynamite!”

“No problem,” said the speech writer.

After the meeting, the CEO called his writer in a fury. “You’re fired!” he yelled.

“What?” he asked, shocked. “Why? I wrote a great speech!”

“Are you out of your mind? I specifically asked for a 20-minute speech, and it took me an hour to get through it. I lost the entire crowd before I was halfway through!”

“An hour?” asked the bewildered speechwriter. “It was definitely a 20-minute speech. Although,” he added, “I did send you three copies….”

The industrialized world has accepted midnight as the beginning of our 24-hour "day." Although it is dark out at 12:00 AM, society dictates that the part of the night before 12:00 is one day, and the remainder of the night after 12:00 is the beginning of the next.

Thus, the present calendar begins the counting of "days" with about six hours of darkness followed by 12 hours of light, followed by six hours of darkness. The midnight-to-midnight system originated in Egypt and Rome.

Other cultures determined the start of their day differently. The Babylonians, worshipping the sun, reckoned it from sunrise to sunrise; the Umbrians from noon to noon.

The Jews start their day in a completely different fashion: at sunset. Shabbat does not begin Friday at midnight, or Saturday morning at sunrise; it begins Friday at dusk, by sunset, and it continues until nightfall on Saturday.

This is often confusing to Jews who don’t realize that Jewish holidays—all Jewish days—begin the previous evening. For example, Sukkot begins on Sunday evening, and concludes Sunday evening, when Shemini Atzeret begins.

Why is this? Why do Jewish days begin at nightfall? Should a new day not begin when we awake, rather than when we retire? Night, it seems, is the end of the day rather than the beginning of a day! Why not commence a new day with light rather than darkness?

Furthermore, why does each day consist of 24-hour periods, which consist of both night and day? Would it not make sense for our days to be divided by the clear demarcation of light and darkness—each morning a new day, and then each evening a new and separate day?

Rabbi Yehudah explained in the Talmud that this phenomenon reflects the order of creation.

"It is like the creation of the universe: first there was darkness, and afterwards daylight, as we read in the beginning of Bereishit: ‘And it was evening, and it was morning; day one. And it was evening, and it was morning; the second day,” etc.”

By mentioning evening before morning, the Torah defines the 24-hour “day” as beginning with the evening, followed by the morning.

During Sukkot in 1950—his first Sukkot as a Rebbe—the Lubavitcher Rebbe presented the deeper explanation for this structure of Jewish time, where the day begins with night and concludes with daytime.

Everyone agrees that life is full of ups and downs. There are periods where the sun is shining and we feel great, only to turn a corner and be faced with difficulties and obstacles that drag us down. But it isn't long before something pleasant comes our way to pick us up again.

The question is: Which one wins the day, the ups or the downs? Are we on a journey upwards, with challenges along the way to make us stronger in our quest for truth?

Does darkness extinguish light, or does light conquer darkness? Does night follow day or day follow night?

The Jewish view is clear. "And it was evening, and it was morning." First the night, then the day. Darkness is a pathway to the sunrise hiding behind it. A challenge comes our way only to help us tap in to and reveal our inner powers that have until now remained unfathomed.

That is Jewish time: the comfort in knowing that no matter how dark it may seem, light will have the last word.

The darkness of night must never be perceived by us as possessing an independent substance; darkness, in Jewish thought, is only an introduction to light. Night is the beginning of a journey. Its purpose is to transform it into light for as a prelude for a new beginning, new horizons.

Rabbi Yehuda said: This is the order of creation. First darkness, then light. Why? Because the entire purpose of darkness is to create a new light. Night’s only reality is as a genesis of new light, the light we create from our challenges and difficulties.

This idea reflects our entire life’s narrative.

“And there was evening, and there was morning.” When we are in the womb, we are in the dark. It is night. Then comes birth—when we emerge into a bright world, where we see the light of day. Birth is the morning that follows the evening of pregnancy.

Then, we die. It is night again. The bodies of our loved ones are interred and concealed in the ground, eclipsed by the dense opaqueness of silent earth. “And it was night.”

But in Judaism, the day never ends with night. The soul does not die, it lives on for eternity. It will return back to life after the coming of Moshiach.

A small child walked daily to and from school. One morning, there were clouds and the sky was blustery. Nonetheless, the child made the daily trek to school.

As the day progressed, the winds whipped up, along with thunder and lightning.

The mother worried that her child would be frightened walking back home from school, and she herself feared the electrical storm might harm her child.

Following the roar of the thunder, lightning would cut through the sky like a flaming sword.  Concerned, the mother got into her car and drove along the route to her child's school.  Soon, she saw her small child walking, but at each flash of lightning, the child would stop, look up at the sky and smile, over and over.

Finally, the mother called and asked, "What are you doing!"

Her child answered:

“I'm smiling for G-d; He keeps taking pictures of me."

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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