Night and Day

In Jewish tradition every day starts in the evening. So for example, the Sabbath, Shabbat, starts Friday evening when the sun sets and it ends on Saturday when the stars come out. The Jewish 24 hour day extends from the beginning of the night till the beginning of night, so that the evening always proceeds the morning in the order of our day. This is implied in the verses in Genesis where the Torah says “It was evening and it was morning of the second day.” Why is this so?

The Maharal of Prague and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explain that just as the creation of the world was a creation of something from nothing; existence preceded by non-existence, so also within our lives we go from “nothing” to “something.”  When we are born we are, (no offence to any babies out there), not very impressive. We need to improve, to grow, and to perfect ourselves – and that is the entire purpose of life. The world starts with chaos and comes to order. Just as G-d imposed order on chaos, we imitate Him in imposing order on chaos and bringing light into the darkness. Night symbolizes the primordial chaos – because of its darkness, because of our fatigue and because our limitations at night. It is the chaos and the imperfection that precedes order and creation, symbolized by the day. In our national life this is also true. We experience exile followed by redemption, night followed by day.

Similarly, Rabbi Hirsch explains the reason that so many of our mitzvot which are time bound tend to be obligatory only during the daylight hours. Blowing of Shofar, putting on Tefillin, shaking the lulav and the etrog on Succot, the entire sacrificial service in the Temple – all take place during the day. Rabbi Hirsch understands the mitzvot, and the Torah are the order which is imposed on the chaos. They are the redemption that resolves the exile. They are the tools of growth and perfection; and hence they take place during the daytime.

Rabbi Hirsch also mentions that day symbolizes clarity and strength, whereas night symbolizes weakness and confusion. The sacrifices (and many other mitzvot) were designated for the daytime to indicate that they are acts, not of a desperate, confused and helpless individual, but that they are free will actions of an intelligent, aware and powerful person. We do not approach G-d out of despair or weakness as pagans did, because they felt powerless in the face of great forces, but rather we realize that the power we have been given is from G-d and should be used to improve ourselves and the world and to come close to Him.

Rabbi Hirsch says that the Torah wants the human to reach out to G-d when he is at the peak of his powers.  G-d should not merely be a refuge for when things are going poorly. The Torah designates daytime as a special time for so many commandments because it does not want us to think that we reach out to G-d only because we are helpless and pathetic.  Even when we experience our power, when things are going well, we should reach out to G-d.

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