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Bereishit(Genesis 1:1-6:8)

Night Owls? Not!

Have you ever tried to get lots of things done at night? Did you ever assume that you can get just as much done at night as you could during the day only to discover yourself dozing off at your desk at 11pm?

Sure, we do accomplish many things at night but somehow, for most people, it is never equal to what we can accomplish during the day. Even when we nap during the afternoon in order to stay up later at night, nights do not seem to be as productive as days. Why is this a fact of human experience?

The answer lies in this week's parsha, Genesis, and in the way God made the world. "God called the light, 'Day', and to the darkness, He called, 'Night'."(Genesis 1:5). What does this verse mean? What is the additional insight? Is it not obvious that day is day and night is night? Are we simply being told what the first words in God's dictionary were? We don't find the Torah telling us all the words that God defined in His dictionary. And besides, what purpose would there be to tell us dictionary word meanings in the Torah? Human experience with speech and language would suffice for us to know day is when we have light and night is when it is dark. There must be a deeper realm of explanation here.

When God calls something a name, He is giving it a role and a reality of existence. Once that role is defined, there cannot be another purpose for that object. If we humans attempt to change the God given role of an object, we will not meet much success. It would be like trying to change the gas pedal of a car into the brakes. The objects and creations of the world were given set tasks and positions by God that cannot be redesigned.

If God called light, 'Day', light's function is as Day. This means that no matter how hard man may try, no matter how advanced electricity becomes, day is day. Night can never be day. The purpose of the daylight hours is for life's accomplishments.

Likewise, when God calls darkness, 'Night', night is etched as the time for rest. Accomplishments at night can never equal that which you can accomplish by day. God programmed the world this way. This is how God defined the world, both pre and post Thomas Edison.

The Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in a Kabbalistic vein, suggests similar thoughts in his magnum opus of Jewish philosophy, "The Way of God" (pg. 290):

"God ordained that the night should be a time when the forces of evil have the ability to move about freely in the world. This is why the intention of night was that people should stay home, sleeping and resting until morning. When the morning comes, authority is taken away from these evil forces and people can once again go about their occupations until nightfall."

Have you ever had such a terrible day that you felt like there was nothing to look forward to in your life? Yet, somehow when you woke up the next morning, things seemed different. What made your negative and dejected feelings change?

This is the purpose of our nights. We need to have breaks from day to new day because sometimes we are so emotionally pained that it is too difficult to bear. Sunset and darkness help bring an end to the negative life experience, allowing us to go on. The new morning's sunrise brings with it an ability to start new and fresh. Yesterday's disappointments do not seem as horrible and the hope for the future is as bright as the sunny day around us.

This is the meaning of the verse in Psalms (30:6), "In the evening one lies down weeping, but in the morning-joy!"

Day is designed for growth and accomplishment. Night is dedicated for rest and relaxation in order prepare for the next day of growth and goal attainment, enabling us to begin again with a brand new start to life.

The functions of Day and Night cannot be changed. No matter how far technological inventions and improvements may go to light up our nights like our days, the workDay, and not the workNight, will always be the reality in our world.

October 9, 2001

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Visitor Comments: 10

(10) Anonymous, October 23, 2011 7:56 AM

Night Study

Whilst I understand what you are saying - why is that studying at night is so much easier than during the day? Because we have distractions during the day - despite what is meant to be going on at night and the sleep that we do or do not need? Please clarify for me. I would be appreciative. Thank you

(9) Ariel, October 13, 2009 12:30 AM

Gd did not create the sun and moon until the 4th day

Dear Rav Leff, It is worth pointing that according to Kaballah the darkness and light which are refered to on Day 1 are not our day and night since the sun and the moon were not created until the fourth day. Hence, although I do not disagree that night is for sleeping, I don't believe that the passage in Genesis which you refer to is proof. Would welcome your coments. Thank you and take good care, Ariel Winer B"H

(8) Xanthe L'Amour, October 12, 2009 6:57 PM


So what should we poor musicians do? There's hardly a performance for us that does not occur at night. I've been a singer, songwriter and guitarist performing live in concert since age 14. My body clock has been forced upside-down, and try as I may it won't seem to budge. Most audiences want their entertainment after work, so we start work when others stop. It's a great sacrifice we make for offering music to the world. Surely there are exceptions to every rule - even the early Hebrews must have had night watchmen? I would be very interested if someone could address this point, for me because it's an ongoing dilemma. I need to use my gifts, I need to earn money, and I WISH I could sleep at night. What to do? Shalom

(7) vic, November 23, 2008 1:45 PM

i want to thank you for such insightful teaching.

i want to thank you for such insightful teaching. just this morning , a friend and i were discussing about dark and light in Gods' perspective. now i appreciate God made them so for a definite purpose. thnk you Rabbi

(6) David Patz, October 23, 2005 12:00 AM

Sleep Medicine confirms appreciation.

Dear rabbi Boruch Leff,
As a sleep physician, treating patients with various sleep disorders, we see many patients with "Insufficint Sleep-Time Syndrome" troubled with difficulties from daytime sleepiness,and other stress manifestations simply because their busy schedule or habits do not allow enough sleep time.
We also see shiftworkers, with an increased incidence of ulcers,vascular disease, and stress, trying to use the night for work, and the day for rest.
I find it very enlightening that, in the Torah, we are taught to allow ourselves enough sleep, and to get it at night.
I may point this out to some of my patients.

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