Night and Day; Day and Night

In Genesis there is written this phrase: “so there was evening, and there was morning.”

I was brought up in a Western country and learned to think in the way of: you live, learn and work in the daytime and than you rest from your labor the following night. So the pattern is: day-night. But in the Creation story the pattern laid down by God seems to be night-day. Is this how it works?

If yes, what is the benefit to think in the pattern night-day instead of day-night? I can think of a few advantages but I hope you will help me in this.

In the same line of thinking is my related question: If Jewish people fast, do they fast from 18.00 hours till 18.00 hours or like Westerners from 24.00 hours till 24 hours?


Dear Wouter,

You are correct that,  based on the beginning of Genesis, the Jewish day starts in the evening and goes through the following evening. There are two days in our calendar where a fast starts with sunset and last for about 25 hours, ending an hour after sunset on the next day.

You can see traces of this pattern in the Western world where Christmas Eve ushers in the holiday. In colonial days in America, Sunday observances frequently began on Saturday night. Even up until the mid-1800s stores in Hartford, Connecticut were closed on Saturday nights as part of Sabbath observance. 

Before we comment on the benefits about which you ask, we want to make clear that our day starts in the evening because that is how God established it since Adam and Eve. It isn’t a case of making a pro and con list and then deciding which we think makes the stronger case.

However, ancient Jewish wisdom does comment on the way of thinking that this trains us to see. Darkness is associated with difficulty as even our language shows when we speak of ‘dark times.’  In contrast ‘the sun shining forth’ isn’t necessarily a meteorological report but a description of an optimistic frame of mind.

By establishing night first, God is giving us a message not to give up hope. Brighter times will follow. He is also advising us on how to tackle life by doing the hard work first and reaping the benefits later rather than the other way around. We imagine (so to speak) God being rather perplexed at a listing of which university is the best ‘party school.’

We hope this shed some daylight on this question,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


17 thoughts on “Night and Day; Day and Night”


    Miss Susan and Rabbi Lapin:
    The Ice Princess asked three questions of each of her her suitors. If he answered wrong he forfeited his head upon the next moonrise. When the Prince Calif was smitten by Turandot’s beauty he rang the royal gong and took up the challenge. As the sun set he appeared before the Princess to try his hand. The first question was, “What is born each night and dies each dawn? Calif answered correctly, “Hope.” He went on to answer the remaining questions and won her hand.
    It has always struck me that the start of the day, the evening, is the dark time when we express our fears and hopes for the future and pray to God for guidance. Once the day has come, we can clearly see our path and so the hope born in our heart dies unneeded, and with God’s direction we can get on to doing our allotted tasks. When evening begins to spread its blanket over our earth we begin to hope again, and pray again as a way to get through the night with it’s ghosts and goblins and things that go bump. Hope is for the dark times. There is less need for it in the bright radiance of God’s being.
    And allegorically the evening represents the dark time when we have not learned of the greatness and grace of God. The morning is when we have found enlightenment and are secure in our relationship with the Lord.
    We give up hope for faith.
    Miss Susan, I will digress to let you know that my beloved Susan has had her shoulder surgery and is recovering nicely. I still wait on her hand and foot, but that is me and not necessarily because she needs it.
    Thank you and Rabbi Lapin for all you do and the comfort you give.
    May there always be red skies at night to you and your family.
    Bill Brower

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Bill
      We always appreciate the good wishes from the wonderful world of boating with which you concluded. Red skies at night, sailors’ delight.

  2. If you had a bad day at work, fear not a new day comes at sunset. You get a fresh start when you get home to your family…leave yesterday’s trouble with yesterday.

  3. The Genesis account of the first day seems to me a strange selection of words: Gen 1:5
    And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night (Strong’s H3915). And the evening

    (Strong’s H6153) and the morning were the first day. Why does Genesis not say: “And the night and the day were the first day?

    When Israel was to kill the Passover lamb, it is stated in Exodus 12:6 – And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening (Strong’s H6153). I have been told that traditionally, the lambs could be killed between noon and sunset.
    So in Genesis 1:2 where the day begins with “evening” it could imply that the day would begin at noon.

    I am not a student of Hebrew which is probably obvious from referencing Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.

    Our fellowship has discussed the issue of starting the day at sunset and were surprised that the Bible seems vague on this issue. Thanks for providing additional insight into a reason for the day starting with the night time portion.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Rich–
      While there is actually no ambiguity about when the Biblical view of when ‘day’ starts–it starts with sunset, you do raise a very good question on Genesis 1:5. I think that I am going to devote a future Thought Tool to this rather than trying to answer in this venue.

  4. Perhaps the custom of beginning / ending the day at sunset comes from the Middle Eastern cultures. During Ramadan, for instance, Muslims fast during the day, then break their fast when 3 stars are visible (traditionally, to the man in the mosque tower, if I recall correctly.) I thought of this similarity even as a child, when we would break the High Holy Days fasts after sunset.
    Thank you, Rabbi, for offering us the opportunity to think about this question, which is basic to the great religions.

    1. Mike, I think you are reversing things. Islam patterned itself on Judaism, which in turn followed God’s plan as laid out in the opening of Genesis.

  5. Thank you, Rabbi.

    Your answer reminds me of the scripture which says,

    “Weeping may ensure for a night, but joy comes in the morning”.

    Best wishes always.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing, Byron,
      Your thoughtful quote from Psalms 35:6 is very apropos. “…in the evening, weeping may linger, but in the morning there is joyful singing” would be how I’d translate the Hebrew.
      However, it is with your salutation that I must respectfully take issue. You thank only me, when there is nothing I write that isn’t the result of constant collaboration with my wife, Susan.
      Here is what I wrote in the beginning of our first book–America’s Real War (which we hope to republish soon with new sections on Islam’s impact on the world post 9-11)

      Which brings me to Susan. This book is as much a product of our collaboration as are our children, for she and I have brought these ideas into being together as surely as our children are also the fruit of our unity. We write together, we home build together, we child raise together, why, we even boat and vote together. Although no word of this volume was sent to the publisher until we both agreed, to the extent you find fault, I can assure you it will be with those passages on which she yielded to me. It would make as little sense for me to thank her for her help in this book as it would make for a left leg to thank a right leg for its help in crossing a street. This is our book.

      It obviously applies to all that appears in our weekly emails and on this site. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to make this point.

  6. Yes! Thank you sir.
    God thinks brighter and brighter.
    It’s always getting better.
    “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” – Proverbs 4:18

  7. Dear Rabbi and Susan, thank you for answering what was also my own question! You point that night is the hard part that comes first, and I would agree if we’re talking about being productive or enjoying the creation. However, isn’t a big part of the night designed to rest?
    It also makes sense to me resting in the Lord (night), even when we don’t see His promises yet and then work with that encouragement. In this case, night would be considered the easy part. Are these views reconciliable? I always learn a lot from you!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for addressing your note to both Susan and me, Monica–
      Please see my response to Byron nearby.
      Your point is helpful in emphasizing something we taught in a long-ago Thought Tool about sleep. Sleep is very much a part of the creative process. Anyone who has ever awoken with a brand new solution or insight knows what I mean. Anyone who went to bed dispirited and pessimistic and awoke ready to triumph knows of what I speak.

  8. Wow. I’m flabbergasted. Thank you Rabbi. My wife and I have discovered your teaching’s about a month ago and we have been feasting on your wisdom ever since. Greetings from Brazil. Hope we get to meet sometime soon. Shalom!

    1. We’re so glad that you found us, Loubach. If you have a chance we’d love to hear how we came across your radar screen.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      We would absolutely LOVE to come teach in Brazil one day, Loubach–
      Thanks for writing and we are so pleased to know that you and your wife are benefiting from our ministry.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      That encourages us Brenda,
      And we appreciate you telling us. If we are only reinforcing that which you already know, we’d be pretty much wasting your time, something that would dismay us only slightly less than wasting our own.

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