[Reflection] When does the day begin?

21 April 2020 – 27 Nisan 5780

21 April 2020

By Rabbi Elana Dellal

In the Talmud, Berakhot 9b we find a discussion around how to determine the start of the day. This is in the midst of a conversation around when one should say the morning Shema. Much of the text focuses on the logic that it is morning when one is able to differentiate certain shades of colour from others. Then the argument changes, focusing not on the colours that are recognisable but instead the living beings. The text shares:

It was taught, Rabbi Meir says that the day begins when one can distinguish between a wolf and a dog. Rabbi Akiva says between a donkey and a wild donkey. And other rabbis say: When one can see another person, from a distance of four cubits and recognise them.

Both Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Akiva argue that the day begins when it is bright enough for similar looking animals to be identifiable. Other rabbis then argue that a day begins when you can recognise someone from some distance away.

In these times we are living in I was struck by the relevance of this text, the day begins when you see others and recognise them.

It is hard to remember what day it is, what week it is, while staying home and not engaging face to face with others. It does in some ways feel as though these days are passing one into the next into the next without any real differentiation.  Being in community with others allows us to mark time, to give and to receive, to engage in life in a synergistic way.

There is so very much being offered by the synagogue to allow for our community to continue to do what we do best: pray together, learn together, do Tikkun tolam together, be together. However, it still is difficult to be separated.

Last week marked the end of Passover, the festival celebrating our liberation from slavery. We eat unleavened bread reminding ourselves that our enslaved ancestors didn’t have time to let their dough rise before they needed to leave to freedom.

In the uncertain times they were living in, not knowing when or if they would be freed from their confines, they still were baking bread, they still were investing themselves in what they could to keep themselves nourished. And we must do the same, we do not know, day to day, what these next few months will look like but we must try to keep ourselves nourished. We must tend to our physical, spiritual and emotional needs as best we can.

It is essential that in addition to supporting others in and outside of our community, that we also tend to our own needs in a time when we are isolated from those who help us to differentiate our days. If you are struggling physically, spiritually or emotionally and need support please do reach out to your rabbi or others in the community.

It is traditional to sing the Song of the Sea on the 7th day of Passover, the words of praise marked by the Israelites as they are passing through the parted sea to freedom. When we have made our way, as a human family, through this mitzrayim – this narrow time, we will continue to wail our laments but we will also sing our songs of joy and gratitude.

Please God soon, like Miriam we will be able to pick up our timbrels and be together in a community in deep mourning for the loss of sacred life and with comfort that as a human family we have seen our way through this troubling time.

Today is a new day, however much it might feel lost in the shadow of the trauma we are living through, remember to care for yourself and find a way to mark this day as different from the one before and the one after.

“This is the day Adonai has made, let us exult and rejoice in it.” Psalm 118:24


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