Ethics of the Fathers 5:6
“Twilight” (bein hashemashot) is a halachic (Torah-legal) term for a time-period that marks the transition from day to night and from one calendar day to the next.
According to Torah law, the calendar day runs from nightfall to nightfall; thus, Shabbat begins Friday evening at nightfall and ends at nightfall on Saturday night. “Nightfall” is when the light of day has faded to the point that three middle-sized stars are visible in the sky. The halachists calculate this to be the point at which the sun has descended 5.9 degrees below the horizon; this occurs approximately 30 minutes after sunset, depending on the location and the time of year.
Nightfall, however, only marks the point at which the night—and the next calendar day—is certain to have begun. Between sunset and nightfall is the period defined as “twilight,” a time-period with laws and rules of its own. The previous day has ended (or perhaps ended), yet the following day has not yet (or perhaps not yet) commenced.
Talmudic and halachic literature present three definitions of “twilight”:
a) It is a period that is “possibly day, possibly night.” According to this definition, the concept of “twilight” is wholly a product of our ignorance of the precise point at which one day ends and the next begins. Nevertheless, our ignorance results in special laws that apply to this period.
b) It is an admixture of day and night; a time-period in which day and night “overlap,” so that it possesses both qualities.
c) It is neither day nor night, but an entity of its own which effects the transition from day to night and from one day to the next.
The above-quoted mishnah from Ethics of the Fathers enumerates ten things that G-d created in the closing moment of the six days of creation, “on the eve of Shabbat, at twilight.” But if twilight is a product of our ignorance as to the precise moment at which the day ends, it follows that for G-d, the creator of night and day, there is no “twilight.” Obviously, then, the twilight of which our mishnah speaks is an actual entity, a time period that is some sort of intermediary between one day and the next, as in definitions “b” or “c” above.
In truth, “b” and “c” are essentially the same definition. Chassidic teaching explains that an “intermediary”—a thing or force that facilitates a transition from one state to another—must include elements of both states, as well as an overriding element that effects the transition. Thus, a poet who wishes to translate a poem from English into French must possess mastery of both languages; indeed, if his translation is to capture the full power and beauty of the poem, his mastery of the two languages must be greater than what would be required to write such a poem in either language.
Another example of this principle: A child psychologist must be familiar with the world of childhood. A psychologist who counsels adults must have knowledge and insight primarily into the psyche and experiences of adults. But a psychologist counseling adolescents—people who are struggling with the transition from childhood to adulthood—must have intimate knowledge of both worlds, and more so than either of his colleagues.
Each and every day of time was created by G-d for a specific purpose; each possesses qualities and potentials uniquely its own. Thus, the days of our lives do not simply begin where the previous day leaves off. Rather, there is a “gap” between them that must be bridged, a transition that must be effected. Hence the special quality and function of “twilight”—the period that possesses qualities of both days and can thus bridge this gap and facilitate this transition.
This is especially true of the transition from Friday to Shabbat—a transition from work to rest, from achievement to repose, from flux to tranquillity. A transition between two time-periods which differ greatly in their function, nature and very essence.
The Cosmic Week
Our sages tell us that the original week of creation embodies the whole of history, which likewise constitutes a “week”: six “workday” millennia, followed by a seventh, sabbatical millennium.
Thus, writes Nachmanides, the first day of creation, which saw the creation of light, embodies the first millennium of history—the millennium of Adam, “the light of the world,” when the world was still saturated with knowledge of its Creator and was sustained by the indiscriminate benevolence of G-d; the second day, on which the Creator distinguished between the spiritual and the physical elements of His creation, yielded a second millennium of judgment and discrimination—as reflected in the Flood which wiped out a corrupt humanity and spared only the righteous Noah and his family; the third day, on which the land emerged from the sea and sprouted forth greenery and fruit-bearing trees, encapsulates the third millennium, in which Abraham began teaching the truth of the One G-d and the Torah was given on Mount Sinai; the fourth day, on which G-d created the sun and the moon, “the two great luminaries: the greater luminary… and the lesser luminary,” corresponds to the fourth millennium, in which the First Temple (2928-3338) and the Second Temple (3408-3829) in Jerusalem served as the divine abode “from which light emanated to the entire world”; the fifth day, the day of fish, birds and reptiles, unfolded into the lawless and predatory Dark Ages of the fifth millennium; the sixth day, whose early hours saw the creation of the beasts of the land, followed by the creation of man, is our millennium—a millennium marked by strong, forceful empires, whose beastly rule will be followed by the emergence of Moshiach, the perfect man who brings to realization the divine purpose in creation and ushers in the seventh millennium—the “World to Come”—a time of perfect peace and tranquillity.
Nachmanides also notes that each thousand-year “day” is preceded by a “twilight”—an “overlapping” period which, while technically belonging to the previous millennium, contains the beginnings of the next. Thus, Abraham was born 52 years before the third millennium, King Solomon built the First Temple 72 years before the fourth, and so with each millennium.
Therein lies the special significance of the twilight following the sixth day of creation, on which G-d created the ten things enumerated by the mishnah. For on the macro-historical level, this is the twilight which facilitates the transition from the six millennia of history to the age of Moshiach.
The significance of this time is of primary relevance to our generation. For it is we, who have entered the final quarter of the sixth millennium, who are living in this most crucial juncture of history—the twilight that translates six thousand years of human toil and achievement into “the day that is wholly Shabbat and rest, for life everlasting.”
In his parting words to the people of Israel, Moses enjoins: “You shall keep the mitzvah, the decrees and the laws which I command you today to do them.” The Talmud interprets this to imply:
“Today to do them”—and not to do them tomorrow;
“Today to do them”—and tomorrow to receive their reward.
In other words, our present-day world and World to Come represent two different modes of existence, each of which is confined to a world all its own. Our present world is the environment for deed and achievement, but without the possibility to enjoy, or even envision, the fruits of our labor. On the other hand, the World to Come is a world of ultimate reward, tranquillity and bliss, but one that precludes any further achievement on the part of man. The Talmud goes so far as to quote the verse, “There will come years of which you will say: I have no desire in them,” and declare: “This refers to the days of the Messianic era, in which there is neither merit nor obligation.” As one chassidic rebbe expressed it, “In the days of Moshiach we will yearn for the hardships and challenges of galut.”
Intrinsic to our nature is that we derive true satisfaction only from what we achieve in the face of challenge. Yet it is the paradox of life that true satisfaction can be experienced only under conditions of tranquillity, and that true challenge can exist only under conditions in which the satisfaction of achievement lies hidden and unknowable beyond the horizon of one’s goal.
Hence the delegation of the reward of our deeds to an unknowable “tomorrow,” and delegation of achievement to a strife-ridden “today.” Were the first six “workday” millennia of history to include more than the merest hint of the satisfaction implicit in our attainments, its challenges, and thus its achievements, would be greatly diminished. On the other hand, were the seventh millennium to include the conditions that allow for true achievement, it could not serve as the arena for true satisfaction.
Thus reality consists of two worlds locked into dichotomy by their very natures and their most basic functions. In the words of the Ethics, “A single moment of teshuvah and good deeds in this world is greater than all of the World to Come. And a single moment of bliss in the World to Come is greater than all of this world.”
Yet there also exists a third arena, an environment in which these two worlds overlap, a reality that incorporates both deed and reward, both struggle and tranquillity; a twilight that mediates between the six work “days” of creation and the ultimate Shabbat.
How does a person experience tranquillity while in the pith of struggle? How can a person enjoy perfection while still grappling with his shortcomings? When he is completely one with what he is doing.
“This is the law of the Torah,” proclaims the verse introducing the laws of the Red Heifer. The chassidic masters point out that the word chukat (“the law of”) used by the verse derives from the word chakikah, “engraving”; thus the above verse may also be rendered, “this is the engraving of the Torah.” Indeed, the Torah was first given to us in the form of Ten Commandments engraved into two tablets of stone.
Chassidic teaching explains that a person’s relationship with the truths he bears can be like that of a parchment scroll with the words written upon it, or like that of a stone tablet with the words engraved in it. The scroll, too, serves as a platform and medium for its words, yet the substance of the scroll and the substance of the words remain two distinct entities, however strongly the ink might adhere to the parchment. The stone tablet, on the other hand, is one with its message: the words are the stone and the stone is the words. The Torah is telling us that its words should be engraved words rather than written words to us: words that are the very form and substance of our lives, rather than something superimposed upon its surface.
This is the significance of the last three of the ten things created “on the eve of Shabbat, at twilight”—the “writing, the inscription, and the tablets” of the Ten Commandments. On the twilight between the six days of creation and the first Shabbat, G-d bestowed upon us the capacity to not only carry out His blueprint for creation, but to engrave it in our very selves, so that everything we do is in full harmony with who and what we are.
As “tablets” of Torah, we transcend the dichotomy of deed and reward. For when a person is completely one with his path through life, his most arduous climb is a tranquil flight of soul and his most painful deficiencies are the building blocks of an integral and perfect self. In such a person, the sharp defining line that divides achievement from satisfaction is muted, creating a “twilight” in which the two distinct, mutually exclusive worlds are merged.
Today, we stand at this most unique moment of history. At this time of transition, on the threshold between today and tomorrow, as six millennia of human endeavor approach their climax into the tranquil perfection of the eternal Shabbat, we are, in a sense, in possession of the best of both worlds. Let us seize the moment.
Based on the Rebbe’s talks on Elul 23, 5742 (September 11, 1982) and on other occasions
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Which swallowed Korach (Numbers 16:32).
. The “Well of Miriam” – the miraculous stone which provided water to the people of Israel during their wanderings in the desert (Exodus 17:6, Numbers 21:16-18).
. Of Bilaam (Numbers 22:28).
. Of Moses (Exodus 4:17).
. A worm which split stones for the construction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (Talmud, Gittin 68a).
. As per Genesis 1:5: “And it was evening, and it was morning: one day.”
. Twenty-four minutes after sunset on March 22 in the Land of Israel (see Siddur HaRav, Seder Hachnassat Shabbat; et al).
. The actual duration of “twilight” is a matter of debate between the halachists. According to one opinion, “twilight” is the entire period between sunset and nightfall; according to other opinions, it is a certain time period within this period. Another opinion is the twilight occupies but “the blink of an eye”—a brief moment that intervenes between day and night (see Talmud and commentaries, Shabbat 34b; Siddur HaRav, ibid.; Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. III, s.v. Bein HaShemashot [pp. 122-126] and sources cited there).
. See Talmud, ibid.; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Eruvin 1:21; Ritva, Yoma 47b; Mefaane’ach Tzefunot, p. 177-178.
. Zohar, part III, 94b; Responsa of Rashba, no. 423.
. See Inside Time, WIR, vol IX, no. 24.
. Midrash Tanchuma, Noach 1.
. Cf. Talmud, Pesachim 118a.
. Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 4:5.
. 240-1240 ce in the secular calendar.
. Nachmanides’ commentary on the Torah, Genesis 2:3.
. We are now in the year 5764 from creation.
. Deuteronomy 7:11.
. Talmud, Eruvin 22a.
. Ecclesiastes 12:1.
. Talmud, Shabbat 151b.
. “Return.” In its narrower sense, teshuvah is repentance for sin; in its broader sense, it is the rebounding from negative and challenging experiences to an acme of achievement unattainable under conditions of tranquillity and perfection .
. Ethics of the Fathers 4:17
. Numbers 19:2.
. Torah Ohr, Chukat 56a.
. The other things created at this time likewise represent realities that are of a “twilight” quality—realities relating to the transition from our world to the world of Moshiach.
. Hitvaaduyot 5742, vol. IV, pp. 2240-2243, 2249-2253; Hitvaaduyot 5745, vol. IV, pp. 2068-2069, 2079-2080; et al.