The Beginning of Day
I enjoy reading a range of things because of what they can teach me. Even though I feel like I already know quite a bit about what I am reading, many times I am offered a new angle or perspective to understand something. Recently I was reading a blog on spirituality. I ran into a little story from Hasidic Judaism. I know some things about that special Jewish group that tends toward the mystical. There is something about the Hasidic spirit that resonates with my own Quaker spirit.
The story is about a rabbi who is asking his students or disciples a question. “He asked, ‘How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?’” In and of itself, this is not a spiritual question. It is an interesting question, but just not specifically a spiritual question. It is interesting because it is not easily answered. As an early morning person, I have often wondered that too. I am doubly intrigued because you can get reports that are very specific. We might hear, for example, that sunrise happens at 6:31 tomorrow morning!
Hence I was intrigued to read on in this little Hasidic story. When does night end and day begin? One of the rabbi’s students had an interesting answer. It reminded me of my farm days. The student said, "Day begins when, from a distance, you can distinguish between a dog and a sheep." Now that made sense to me. If I can tell the difference between a dog and a sheep, it has to be light enough for details to emerge that would say, “That’s a dog.”
However, that was not good enough for the rabbi. He did not think that was sufficient to answer, when does night give way to day. We are given no reasons why this answer did not suffice for the rabbi. He simply says, “No.” Apparently more precision would be needed.
Another disciple stepped in with a potential answer. Intriguingly, the disciple offers it as a question---a question that is a potential answer. The disciple asks if it is possible to distinguish night from morning “when you can distinguish between a fig tree and a grapevine?" That is an answer that does not come out of my world. We had no fig trees on my farm! I would not have known a fig tree if I saw one. But I assume it looks nothing like a grapevine.
But again, this was not the right answer for the rabbi. Again, he says, “No.” His students and disciples now were probably a little exasperated. So they plead with him: "Please tells us the answer then." I can feel for them. So many times I have been in that place where you just know you are guessing for answers. Perhaps in the beginning, you think you know or can figure out the answer. And then at some point, it is clear you have no clue. So come on, rabbi, give us the answer!
And he does come through with his answer. And of course, it is a spiritual answer. "It is," said the rabbi, "when you can look into the face of other human beings and you have enough light in you to recognize them as your brothers and sisters. Up until then, it is night, and darkness is still with us." It is a great answer and, yet, a mystifying answer.
It is a great answer because it does take sufficient light to be able to recognize a face. I have both a brother and a sister in my family. So I could read this story literally. In sufficient light in a morning, I would be able to know whether the other person is really my sister…or just another person. My sister is also a person, but in the light of day I recognize her as not just another person, but as my sister.
However, I am confident the rabbi wanted us to hear the story at a deeper, spiritual level. It really becomes day for me when there is sufficient “light” that I can see the other human person is also figuratively my brother or my sister. In the spiritual family we are all brothers and sisters. Spirituality is not about blood relationship. It is about faith relationships. And it is about love relationships. And it is about communal relationships.
When we understand it in this fashion, we understand that much of our world is still living in darkness. When we see it this way, we know that it might be noon and the sun is shining brilliantly, but we are still “in the darkness of our night.” As long as we can see other human faces and not understand them as our brothers and sisters, we have not come into the spiritual light of the day.
I am confident this is what Jesus and other spiritual leaders through the ages came to teach us. They want us to be able to see things as they really are in the light of the day. At the beginning of day, they want us to be able to see all the brothers and sisters in our world. They want us to be at work creating and caring for the family of God. We are children of the light. Let us live as children of the day.