Evening . . . Mixtures and Beauty

By :  Samuel Barth Posted On Jun 12, 2013 / 5773 | Service of the Heart: Exploring Prayer | Prayer

The rhythm of light and darkness is deeply embedded in our humanity. Even if we do not know the precise time (in hours and minutes), we are conscious of the cycle of day and night. The onset of night, as evening falls, is often associated with some sense of foreboding, and the dawning of each new day holds hope and promise. Light is associated in many sources with good, with hope, even with messianic redemption: “a sun of righteousness . . . and healing” (Malachi 4:2). Our liturgy speaks of the transition between day and night, and uses the phrase “uma’avir yom umeivi laila” (God causes the transition from day to night). Using a verb that suggests an unfolding process, rather than an abrupt disjunction, reflects the natural flow of dusk, sunset, and night.

The end of the blessing (Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, 28) presents a fascinating and even inspiring play on words. After using the verb ma’avir to describe the process of transition, the text uses the double entendre “ma’ariv aravim” (brings on the evening; more literally, God evenings the evening). We are very familiar with the Hebrew word erev as “evening,” but only one transition of letters turns it into our earlier verb avar (transition). It is important to recall one other meaning associated with this same Hebrew root. The word arev can also mean “lovely” or “beautiful,” as in the blessing for the Torah, where we say each day, “Ha’arev na . . . et divrei Torat’kha” (Make the words of Your Torah beautiful, 63), and in describing the beloved “Ki koleikh ’arev” (For your voice is beautiful) [Song of Songs 2:14].

So perhaps we can offer an interpretive meaning of the text that supports us as we enter into evening and night. God has built this “transition into darkness” into the fabric of our world, and just as we see the onset of evening, we recall the beauty in transitions and in the mixture of light and darkness, and we affirm divine power within and over us. We praise/bless God for the beauty of evening, for guiding us even into darkness.

As always, I am interested in hearing comments and reflections on these thoughts about prayer and liturgy. You may reach me at sabarth@jtsa.edu.