Evening & Morning: Rosh Hashana Prayers: 1st Blessing of Morning Shema
My friend has a large poster of “Sailboats, Regatta in Argenteuil” by Monet hanging in his office. I was staring at it trying to determine if it was in the early morning or late afternoon. I couldn’t tell, and neither could he.
The painting reminded me of one of the first verses in the Bible: “And it was evening, and it was morning, one day.” The verse does not say that it was night and day, but evening and morning. If the world functioned the way it currently does, it would have been impossible for it to be night and day, because if it is night in one part of the world, it will be day in another. The verse is actually describing time in terms of change: Evening is when the previous day is ending and the following night is beginning. Morning is the opposite. The verse describes transition from one state to another.
We live in a world of transition. The verse begins with fading light, as if to say, “This is a world in which light is not permanent. It is only a stage that will end and eventually begin again.
This is why the Talmud insists that we mention both night and day in the blessings of the morning and evening Shema. The blessings address transitions. They acknowledge the constant change in Creation.
We suffer the change from day to night, but, we also celebrate the change from night to day. Teshuva can only exist in a world of change. We use the morning blessing of Shema to rejoice over the possibilities offered by change.
We also speak of the world of the angels, where there is constant light, as a prayer that we merit to live in a state in which light, our accomplishments and growth, become permanent as it is for the angels.
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