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Morning and Evening

08/11/2022 04:13:54 PM


“Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad”- those six words of the Shema are perhaps the essence of our faith. They were the last prayers upon the lips of generations of martyrs, and are among the very first prayers we recite with our children. For an observant Jew, they form parentheses around the entirety of one’s day, said morning and evening as we fulfill the verse “when you lie down and when you rise up.” Those words ask us an important question- what frames our day?

Nowadays, we mix day and night freely. My own late night email habits are legendary, but apparently it happens the other way as well. Twice this week I arose at 4 AM to travel or take on an important task. Even though the sleepy suburban streets were quiet, and my “do not disturb” active, my interrupted by the soft buzz of emails and other messages from other local insomniacs and time-zone challenged communicators. There are so few activities that are restricted to one time of day- we can communicate, find food, shop, work, sleep, even get a tan, no matter what the sun is doing. 

That’s a relatively new phenomenon. In the ancient world, day and night, and the appropriate activities for each, were very clearly defined. Most people arose with the dawn, were eating dinner at dusk, and, with artificial illumination being relatively expensive, went to bed relatively soon after dark. Only very few had the means to sleep in until 8 AM or stay up late into the night. There were very few things that were done both morning and evening.

Even if we no longer live by the ancient timetable, the Shema reminds us that our whole day is colored by whatever we choose to do at its extremes, beginning and end. What is it that YOU do morning and night. Perhaps you pray? Hug a loved one? Take medication? Brush teeth?

Studies indicate that for many of us, it is checking email or social media. Anecdotal evidence seems to confirm that many leave cellphones or other devices by their beds, and will check messages literally as the last thing they do before they go to bed, or as the first thing they do before they emerge from it. Though, to be fair, depending on your feed, you may have less incentive to get out of bed.

Nevertheless, the Shema poses the question and the challenge of  how we frame our days. Changing our habits is hard, but adding new ones is a little easier. What if, at the beginning and end of a day, you added a different kind of wireless communication, a moment of prayer, of spiritual connection? How might it change your attitude to the day that passed and the day to come?

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784