When does the night end and the day begin?

This week my blog consists of a quote from a book I am currently reading. The title is Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.It is written by Thomas L. Friedman, a renowned columnist of the New York Times. It is well worth reading and I may come back to it in another blog.

On pp. 388-389 Friedman uses this touching story to make an important point:

A rabbi once asked his students: “How do we know when the night has ended and the day has begun?”  The students thought they grasped the importance of this question. There are, after all, prayers and rites and rituals that can only be done at nighttime. And there are prayers and rites and rituals that belong only to the day. So, it is important to know how we can tell when night has ended and the day has begun.

So the first and the brightest of the students offered an answer: “Rabbi, when I look out at the fields and I can distinguish between my field and the field of my neighbor, that is when the night has ended and the day has begun.” A second student offered his answer: “Rabbi, when I look at the fields and see a house, and I can tell that it is my house and not the house of my neighbor, that is when the night has ended and the day has begun.” A third student offered another answer: “Rabbi, when I see an animal in de the distance, and I can tell what kind of animal it is, whether a cow, a horse, or a sheep, that is when the night has ended and the day has begun.” Then a fourth student offered yet another answer: “Rabbi, when I see a flower and I can make out the colors of the flower, whether they are red, or yellow, or blue, that is when the night has ended and the day has begun.”

Each answer brought a sadder, more severe frown to the rabbi’s face.  Until finally he shouted: “No! None of you understands! You only divide! You divide your house from the house of your neighbor, your field from the neighbor’s field, you distinguish one kind of animal from another, you separate one color from all others. Is that all we can do—dividing, separating, splitting the world into pieces? Isn’t the world broken enough? Isn’t the world broken into enough fragments? Is that what Torah is for? No, my dear students, it is not that way, not that way at all!

The shocked students looked into the sad face of their rabbi. “Then, Rabbi, tell us. How do we know that night has ended and the day has begun?”

The rabbi stared back into the faces of his students, and with a voice suddenly gentle and imploring, he responded: “When you look into the face of the person who is beside you, and you can see that this person is your brother or your sister, then finally the night has ended and the day has begun.”

 

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