I’ve never experienced sunset in the way that I have in Israel.
I’ve never really experienced anything like I have in Israel; I understand this to be the cosmic gift of being exactly where I need to be.
Rav Schwab zt’’l brings down an incredible Torah having to do with doses of light. He notes that three times a day in Tefila, we mention three factions of our daily experience, “Night, Day, and Afternoon.” He explains that these three experiences not only apply to our daily interactions but rather life through a cyclical lens. Night–being the time of deep darkness, pain, and doubt. The stage of our life that saturates within confusion and loneliness; a reality seemingly impossible to escape for some. Then comes the day in the sequence, a “cold-turkey” break of this sadness to overwhelming warmth and clarity. I feel this often in my life thank G!d, the phenomenon of extreme loss is met immediately with radical love. Then, of course, the beautiful medley of both: the afternoon.
Before I began to understand afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel like the “sundial” metaphor missed the usual and logical flow. A hopeful message would be that our lives are like a dawn, i.e., light immersing from decapitating darkness. So why would the wisdom of Tefila bring us to afternoon? A time of light leading into darkness? Seems strange.
In hopes to answer this for myself, I began thinking of the Hebrew word צהריים itself as is written in the text. The root of the word being צהר can also be understood as צוהר, which in elevated Hebrew language translates to a window.
We recognize this word because we’ve seen it before in Parshat Noach. The pasuk states that Hashem commanded Noach to צֹ֣הַר | תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֣ה לַתֵּבָ֗ה – Make a Tzohar for the ark. There are two main understandings of what the Tzohar actually served as. Some translate to a special stone that absorbs and reflects ultraviolet light. The Tzohar as a vessel capable of translating light of immense frequency to a plethora of gleaming colors that permeated throughout the ark. An additional understanding is, as modern Hebrew supports: a window.
In English, the meaning of window remains broad. In the simplest of terms, a physical window serves as a place to look in and out. However a window means so much more; I remember learning that when dating and in marriage, your partner is your mirror to recognize all the elements of yourself, thoroughly. While I agree with this outlook, I also believe a relationship can also serve as a window. A place where two meet in transparency and when one is prompted the opportunity to look outward, they must remember to glance inward as well. A mirror sometimes grants the illusion that the other side cannot see, however a window reminds us that what may not be clear to us can be the clearest to another.
We all know the phrase, “Eyes are the window to the soul.” but it was only until very recently in life someone introduced to me the depth of this concept. They explained that the quote goes further, as “if the eyes are the window to the soul, then the eyes also exist as the soul’s window to the world.” I know right. Our perception is everything, which makes our experiences as horrible as they are magnificent.
A window additionally means an opportunity, as a window of time refers to space between two events. Although seemingly finite by the borders of time, these moments can alter our entire trajectory.
This brings us back to our holy “afternoons” of life. The צהריים mentioned in our tefilah serves as this exact space between our highest and lowest. I’d like to follow the thinking of Chizkuni and other commentators that from within the ark there was both the window and the precious gem. The window being a vessel to accept light during the day and the stone emulating that light through the night. The window, a transparent opportunity, and the stone intimate radiance.
Friday night an individual shared this Rav Schwab Torah on this ערב, בוקר וצהריים and in front of an entire Kehila of soul searchers he shouted, “Be צהריים Jews!!”
Now knowing what I know of the צהר in the ark, I couldn’t agree more.
To be not only Jews but human beings that can accept blessing and love so deeply when poured upon us that we realize our power to radiate this light in times where we feel its lack. The most important point however is not to live a life ignoring or negating the bad, but to pursue comfort within the space.
How Rav Schwab brought forth this Torah showcases the beauty that the three times a day we remind ourselves of these stages in life, we say them in מודים. Through the song of gratitude, we glaze our perspectives on life with the common denominator that the events were divinely designed for our benefit.
We know gratitude comes with ease in times of jubilation and painfully in times of loss, but I’d like to suggest that this is why the afternoon provides such depth into the metaphor of how one may experience life. Afternoon guarantees the warmth of morning as the progression of night’s cold inclines. To be an afternoon person—an afternoon Jew, life no longer becomes fragmented by “good and evil” “sad and happy” or even “light and dark”. There becomes an intrinsic understanding that the loss of something does not equate to the lack of, on the contrary–the loss of something grants the awareness of that something’s once potent presence.
“Grief is the last act of love” (Cathy Rentzenbrink)
“And that love will remain like thousands of bright, colorful strands woven forever through our cloak of grief. Beautiful and awful, side by side, and ours to keep”
(Caroline Catlin on ‘Why I photograph the quiet moments of grief and loss’)
I close my eyes and see the Tzohar.
Thank G!d my community lives for truth and thrives off of the pursuit. A somewhat recent, wonderful development has been the building of a physical dwelling place for our spiritual aspirations: our community shul (synagogue.) As the finalizing renovations draw to a close, the holy women of our community decided to sanctify the space before we truly call it ours. Every night, three weeks leading up to the communal entrance of the shul, the women of the community, in an almost “secret society” type fashion, gathered in the main sanctuary. The simplistic objective of the meeting was to read and finish the book of Tehillim. However, we all know that was just a cover for what we were really doing. Due to the lack of electricity in the building, there was no light, leaving us to stand in the dark, breathe the cold crisp air of our mikdash, and bring forth light. We all stood in sweet silence, holding our flashlights close to the words written from the depths of pain and praise.
I felt extremely blessed with mazal as the Tehillim card in front of me featured the songs of Kabbalat Shabbat, what a gift it was to whisper the words I know will be shouted in celebration. This is night, this is knowing what light is. The holy women around me gifted the walls of our Mishkan the sound of prayer, the melody of Emunah and the rhythm of bitachon. The surreal first cry of a newborn baby rang through each corner, crevice, and curve.
Shabbat afternoon we met outside of the shul (we didn’t have the key) but honestly, it felt appropriate as we spent the entire week making this space the Kodesh HaKedoshim (Holy of Holies) that could only be entered at the right time. As we felt the radiance of Shabbat begin to rest into the sunset, we felt the translation of that exact light permeating through the faint whispers of our prayers. We sought the window of space between Shabbat and weekday to absorb light so that we may have the strength during the week to distribute to those around us.
I may not have the words to describe the energy shared through these nights, but the Tehillim I read encapsulated what it means to be an afternoon Jew.
“חסד ואמת נפגשו צדק ושלום נשקו”
To be in a place where kindness and truth meet, where righteousness and peace kiss.
These words alone take my breath away. Reading this, suddenly the overwhelming enclosure of brilliance and loving illumination sank in. Truth, contrary to how we may desire it to look, can be the most terrifying sight. However, when met with kindness–can be invited more comfortably. To reach an emotional and spiritual place of contentment, satisfaction, and ultimately fulfillment, one can understand where truth and kindness not only meet, but embrace.
Righteousness and peace. Like truth, sometimes we may define our righteousness through“objectivity.” However, as the mirror taught us, objectivity is hard to achieve when only one side is visible. Righteousness oftentimes is subjective and complex. I remember a story of an unfortunate Kotel “drama” between two groups of Jews. By the world both groups are understood to have opposite agendas however when closely examined, they both share the natural desire for connection. The poignant part of the story was one bystander approached one of the “opposers” and challenged the protest with the innocent plea, “Isn’t this Sinat Chinam?” (Baseless hatred) Which we know to be a core issue among the Jewish people. To this they made a powerful point; the reply was, “Yes it is hatred, but it is not baseless.”
There is deep severance and pain from these words, but they beg this line from Tehillim to heal the wound. When one believes their way of righteousness trumps that of others, peace is absolutely unattainable. So when there exists a space where not only the two interact but fall in love in an unspeakable embrace–we can begin to fathom G!d’s glory.
With the deepest prayer, I wish everyone the dance of the window and stone, to absorb and radiate blessing through all doses of life. May our reality be the space where kindness and truth meet and righteousness and peace kiss. Please G!d watch the sunset with us, as we are your afternoon Jews.
This post and the Torah learning put into it, Please G!d, should be L’iluy Neshama, my holy best friend’s grandfather, Yitzchak ben Shimon who recently returned to the Neshama HaNeshamot. A husband, father, friend, and “adopted babajoon” that emulated light and Simcha everywhere he went. His neshama should bask in the light of his loved one’s Nachat.