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To Live from Spring to Spring

The Jewish calendar is different from the calendar commonly used in the western world today.  Also, the Jewish day of rest - the Sabbath - is different from the accepted day of rest in the world, Sunday.

In halachic rulings [rulings in Jewish Law] pertaining to daily matters, we are used to establishing the beginning of a day from the onset of the night preceding it.  Shabbat begins on Friday evening and comes to an end with the appearance of stars on Shabbat; festivals begin at night and come to an end at night.  Even during the days of S'firat Ha'Omer [counting the Omer], we count the appropriate number of the following day at the evening prayer preceding it.

The source for this custom is found in the Book of Genesis - Bereishit - in the account of the Creation of the world:  "...And there was evening, and there was morning,... [the second day, the third day and so on]".  First, it says "And there was evening", and only after that, "and there was morning".  (There are additional sources in the Torah for this way of reckoning; it is recommended to consult the comments of the Rashbam and the Ibn Ezra on the verse "And there was evening, and there was morning"). 

There are places in the Torah where the opposite is true: day precedes night, and the night follows after the day that came before it.  For example: in the framework of the service performed in the Beit Mikdash, day preceded night, and the day opened with the coming of daylight and ended the following morning (Talmud, Chullin 83, side 1).  Therefore, [as the twenty-four hour period of day] began in the morning],it was possible to offer sacrifices also on the night following the offering of a sacrifice during the day, and one could also eat the sacrifice on the night following its offering.  

Also, in matters not of a halachic nature, we can observe that sometimes the Torah puts day before night:  for example, in the account of the Flood, it says, "...And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights"  (Bereishit 7, 12).  The Torah lists the day first; that is, that the period of forty days concluded with the end of the last night.  After the Flood, G-d promised: "As long as the earth continues to exist, sowing and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease"  (Bereisht 8, 22).  First, day is mentioned, and only then, night.

An additional source:  "Moshe was on the mountain forty days and forty nights"  (Sh'mot 24, 18).  That is, the period during which Moshe stayed on the mountain came to a close with the end of the last night, not at the end of the last day.

So, we have learned that even though usually a "day" begins in the evening and ends at night, there are instances in which the day is considered to have begun in the morning and to have ended in the morning.

Of course, this fact has a deep significance and essence that we are meant to understand.

The yearly cycle, also, has two beginnings and, consequently, two ends.  We all know that there is the holiday "Rosh Hashannah" - the anniversary of the creation of Man, which occurs in autumn, at the beginning of the month of Tishrei.  However, we also know that counting months in the Jewish calendar begins with the month of Nissan, at the start of spring:  "This month is for you the head of all months, for you, the first month of the months of the year".  The Torah refers to the month of Tishrei as the seventh month.

What is the meaning of this?

Rabbi Tzaddok HaKohen of Lublin (Tzidkat HaTzaddik, 11), one of the chassidic sages, gives meaningful significance to the fact that in issues relating to the Beit Hamikdash, "day" began in the morning:  "We learn from the Creation that in all matters, night precedes day.  Because in every instance, absence precedes existence...for man's live is composed of timeliness - darkness and light, day and night, cycles which repeat themselves.  But night comes first, in the same way that a peel [or shell] comes before the fruit [a person encounters the peel before getting to the fruit].  Except in the case of holiness, when night follows day, because for a person who has already entered [the precincts of] holiness, day comes first, just as for a person standing inside the fruit, for him, the fruit precedes the peel".

This is quite a deep concept; we'll try to understand its meaning.

Parshat Pinchas includes the discussion of the holidays and festivals of Israel.

Festivals of Israel are not meant to be merely a reminder of events from the past, a safeguard for remembering historical occurrences.  Their principle importance is to strengthen the future and breathe the breath of hope into the nation through their absorbing the spiritual lights that shine forth on each holiday - each one with its especially beneficial messages.

We'll look at what Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes:

"The faith of a Jew finds its expression in the calendar.

On the wings of Time, that carry us on the path of our lives, G-d engraved His Torah and marked out days, weeks and years.  As harbingers of His Torah...memorials, etched in stone, that are subject to the vicissitudes of weather, palaces and altars crumble and are destroyed, but Time exists forever, and from its lap each and every day grows and is born, fresh and new...days come to people without any prior warning and without their being able to postpone them.  They [the days] will find the person in the midst of his life's struggles, at the time of his joy, in his prison cell or on his sickbed.  They will find him wherever he is and will present G-d's word to him.  They demand, they warn, they comfort and revive.  They are found everywhere and fill everything with their presence... simultaneously, they find and encompass everything, and they weave the thoughts and emotions of thousands of people in the four corners of the world; it makes no difference where they are, what their age or nature"  (B'Ma'agalei Shannah [In the Year's Cycle], beginning of part 1).

Next, Rabbi Hirsch discusses the significance of the two different calculations of the beginning of a day and a year:

"The Jewish calendar recognizes two beginnings of the year, just as it has two beginnings of a day.  One beginning is in autumn, when the year battles and tunnels under the winter to spring and summer and reaches its end, once again, with the onset of autumn.  The second beginning is in Nissan, in the spring, when the year passes over the surface of the summer, autumn and winter, and renews itself in the vitalized spring.

In similar manner, the day begins as night falls, struggles and tunnels through the darkness of night to the light of day and reaches its end, again, with the setting of the sun, despite all the hopes that had been hung on the rays of dawn and the noonday sun.  Day begins, also, with morning, passes over the noonday sun and tunnels past the darkness of light, again reaching the morning light".

This "external" reality has an inner meaning:

"The day that begins as night falls is the day of Creation.  It is according to this calculation that we reckon how much time we have been here [on earth], in any place.  But the day counted from daybreak is the day of the Mikdash; it is the day that accompanies a person from morning to morning.  Everything begins with morning light and culminates with morning light".

That is to say that the "day" referred to in Creation - that same reality in which Time passes over Man, whether he wants it to or not - that is the day that begins at night and ends at night.  This physical, material reality is one over which a person has no control whatsoever; it is a reality that stands alone, with no spiritual content - its beginning and end are at night.  This "night" symbolizes life in darkness, superficial life, earthbound and material life.  Even if somewhere in the middle there are moments of a flash of light, in the end, everything returns to night.  In contrast, the day used in reference to the Beit HaMikdash represents a different way of living - spiritual living.  When a person brings Mikdash Hashem - G-d's Holy Temple - into his life and home, when a person approaches his daily life from a point of sanctity, from spirituality, from faith - for him, the day begins with daybreak.  Even if there is some suggestion of "night" somewhere along the line, when there are downfalls and difficulties, the person knows that the sun will begin to shine, immediately thereafter.  Such a person lives from light to light.

The autumn year, also, begins and ends with Tishrei.  It is the year of the physical Creation, a year concerned with the matters of this world.  In comparison, the spring year that begins and ends with Nissan is the Jewish year, the year of the Redemption of Israel, according to which we gauge the life of a Jew who lives his life with the Holy One, Blessed be He.

This dual account of days and years is directed toward having us understand our dual nature, which is split between fleeting, temporary material existence, bleakly wintry and dark, and eternal spirituality, spring-like and bright.

In the past (Parshat Ha-azinu), we have cited the words of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91, side 1) pertaining to the dispute between a sage, named Gevihah ben Pesisa, and an apostate, about the Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead.  The heretic said:  "Woe is to you, who say that the dead live.  Those very ones who are 'alive' - we see that they are dead.  How could we entertain the notion that the dead return to life?"  The sage answered him:  "Woe to you, who say that the dead will not live.  After all, those who had never existed before were formed, born, and lived.  How much more so those that were already alive in the past - is it not even more [certain] that they return to life?"  (Translated from the Hebrew that was translated from Aramaic).

The dispute between them revolved around the question as to how one should live - from "day to day", or from "night to night".  We have here a debate between two worldviews that are extremely far from one another.  The heretic argues that the direction and the aim of life are one: life is on the way to death.  The sage, in contrast, answers him:  You see that each day, more people are being born, and new life is created  after the absence (of life); how much more so that from life that already existed, a completely new form of life will come into being.  The essence of their argument is whether our reality in this world is the epitome of perfection and the end of the road, or if all life in this world is actually the root and seed of what is going to be later on  ("Re'ei Emuna", lesson 39).

That's the question in life - is which direction is Creation going?  From life to death, or from death to life?  From light to darkness, or from darkness to light?  From winter to winter, or from spring to spring?

"Remove from your life everything which marks you as a Jew; remove from the life of mankind everything that you received from Judaism and everything that draws you closer to Judaism, and count the days of your life and the days of mankind from night to night and from autumn to autumn.  The whole experience will be autumnal, void of flowering, of blossoming, of sun and light.  Even if the sun shines on the material pride, in the end, it disappears into the shadows of night, just like the tree in this material life, which blooms in the summer in all its glory, and afterwards, when the autumn days come upon it, days of storm and wintry winds, and it is left exposed, with no green leaves.  That which comes from dust, finds its end in dust.  Everything is transitory and goes down into oblivion.

The spirit of Judaism is to calculate from spring... thus, we have learned that there is nothing in life that passes away and is totally nullified.  Everything is eternal and full of life-spirit from G-d, may He be blessed.  Including troubles, hard labor, mourning and sadness - all turn into joy and happiness.  Even the fleeting moment and the seed that sprouts and grows for only a short time, when viewed through the G-dly spirit in Man, these, too, are part of a complete perfection.  Here, joy abounds even in the gray-days of life, and spring renews itself even from the darkness of the storm.  From morning to morning, from spring to spring, thus lives a Jew, and that is how he reckons his time.

That is the whole message of the Redemption"   (Rabbi Hirsch, ibid.)