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?
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