This past Sunday was one of my favorite days of the year, the day we set the clocks forward for Daylight Saving Time. And while, yes, I did lose that hour of sleep like everyone else, and yes, I was a bit groggier for Sunday school that morning, I still always look forward to the time when we gain that extra hour of daylight.
More and more, it seems, I’m in the minority. It seems that this year at this time there are more and more articles decrying the practice and more and more calls to abolish it altogether. From The 10 Things We Still Hate About Daylight Saving Time in USA Today to Time to Kill Daylight Saving in The Atlantic to John Oliver’s funny take on “Why is This Still a Thing” on his Last Week Tonight television show, the chorus is growing to get rid of this anachronistic practice.
And I will admit, it is outdated. One popular myth is that it was instituted to help farmers, when in reality it was instituted in the wake of World War I to save energy. But with how we use energy ever changing and no longer dependent on sunlight, energy consumption has stayed the same and even increased in places where Daylight Saving was instituted more recently. And plus, studies have shown that the time change can have a detrimental effect on one’s health. So why keep doing it?
Daylight Saving seems to be one of those quirks of the calendar that Jews should be used to. I remember growing up confused that the new year begins not on the first month of the year, but at the seventh month of the year. And the first month of the year, Nissan, is actually half-way through the year, the month in which we celebrate the holiday of Passover. I continually need to explain to people how the Jewish “day” begins in the evening at sundown. And as Diaspora Jews we especially have an odd relationship to time as our holidays “change” every year in relationship to the Gregorian calendar, requiring a constant adjustment between our spiritual and civic lives.
In the story of the Exodus in the Torah, which we will retell around the Passover Seder table soon (during this first month of Nissan), God describes the ancient Passover sacrifice. The offering has a practical purpose in the story—it is to provide the blood to mark the Israelite homes to avoid the final plague of the death of the first born, the plague which will finally convince Pharaoh to free the slaves. But the offering is meant to be something that will continue into the future, a remembrance of these events.
At the beginning of the description, God says, “this month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.” (Exodus 12:2) In the text, God is telling the Israelites that they will do this sacrifice again in the future. But there is a deeper meaning here. We are being told to mark time, to find significance in the season, and to count the months in a particular order. The months themselves are divine; it is through human endeavor that we order them and grant them significance.
Indeed, the medieval Italian commentator Sforno (1475-1550) says this verse means: “from now on these months will be yours, to do with as you like.” That is, we have the power now to create our own calendar. Why? Sforno continues, “this is in contrast to the years that you were enslaved, and you did not have control over your time.”
So perhaps Daylight Saving Time is arbitrary. Maybe the original justification is no longer relevant. And yes it is annoying to lose some sleep and have to adjust to a slightly altered cycle. But I will keep “falling back” and “springing forward” because it is another way we can create meaning in our world by giving order to the chaotic (I see it as another ritual marking the coming of spring), and as another reminder of, as we say at Passover, “once we were slaves, now we are free.”
The cycles of the world happen naturally—the earth rotates on its axis, the moon orbits the earth, the earth orbits the sun. But we create “days,” “months” and “years” to describe these phenomena. Daylight Saving may be arbitrary, but it is our arbitrary, a reminder of how important liberation is.
There is an old joke about the Israeli fellow who would always ask people for the time. People would get irritated, but would tell him the time. Finally at one point somebody asked/told him: “Why not get a watch?”
The fellow responded: “Why should I pay for a watch, I have you to tell me the time. ”
“But what do you do at night when you need to know the time?”
The fellow responded: “At night I blow my shofar”
“Your shofar, how does that help?”
“Easy”, the fellow responded, ” I open my window and blow the shofar. Before you know it people are shouting out to me: why are you blowing your shofar? Don’t you know it is two in the morning!”
As a side point today the fellow would probably now own a phone as who owns a watch anymore? But can you imagine an Israeli not owning a cell phone?
Be that as it may, we all know the power of time marching on and the need to know the time as it determines our schedule and where we have to be or what we have to do. The ability to determine your own schedule is a great luxury. The opposite extreme borders on slavery.
The first commandment to the Jewish people in the Torah is understood to be the command of a calendar whose first month will be Nisan, the month of the Exodus from Egypt. “This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year.” Exodus 12:2. The first sign of freedom is determining the flow of time on your terms, and not the terms of the oppressor. Over the past years, numbers of for profit companies and non-profits have moved to allowing flex time for people to set up their schedules. This enables employees to better adjust their schedules and balance their work and family responsibilities and employers have discovered the benefits this can provide to the company itself.
For Jewish tradition, Nisan becoming the first month means Passover and the Exodus are foundational, orienting events. History is meaningful, memory is crucial and one day all will be free. In addition, the Biblical scholar William Propp in his Anchor Bible work on Exodus, makes an acute observation. In Genesis 1:14-18 “no calendar is instituted. God establishes the day, the week and the year-but not the month….The implication may be that the birth of the Israelite nation and the concomitant establishment of the calendar are themselves acts of cosmogony completing the unfinished creation”
14. And God said, “Let there be luminaries in the expanse of the heavens, to separate between the day and between the night, and they shall be for signs and for appointed seasons and for days and years.
15. And they shall be for luminaries in the expanse of the heavens to shed light upon the earth.” And it was so.
16. And God made the two great luminaries: the great luminary to rule the day and the lesser luminary to rule the night, and the stars.
17. And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to shed light upon the earth.
18. And to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate between the light and between the darkness, and God saw that it was good.
In making this observation Propp teaches us that a key Biblical idea is Israel’s role in creation. Partnering with God, Covenant and Tikkun Olam in its classical mystical or current connotation, all assume this notion of our role. Our challenge is know what time it is now and what does the current time demand of us to accomplish.
Almost eight years ago, on the evening of April 22nd, after a full day of labor, my husband Rick and I got into the car and drove a mile and a half to Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Noa Tiferet Kobrin-Brody, our first child, would be born less than two hours later. Between the intensity of the contractions, Rick and I observed the beauty of the thinnest possible crescent moon that shone brightly in the deep sky. Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of a new Hebrew month) had just ended, and what we saw on that eventful evening was the first sign of the new moon. We knew it heralded an auspicious new chapter in our lives; but it also stirred a very special memory: Rick’s grandmother, who’s name was Doris, loved the crescent moon — she thought it was one of nature’s greatest beauties. Rick’s family had in fact named it a “mommy–moon” in honor of Doris.
Rick and I had been “old-school” and did not know, prior to Noa’s birth, if our baby was a boy or a girl. We had thought, if she was a girl, that we would name her Noa, after Rick’s grandfather, Nathaniel. We wanted to remember Rick’s grandmother through our child’s middle name, but we were struggling to find a suitable girl’s name that honored Doris. The crescent moon changed that. On that night in April, the crescent moon — the mommy-moon — actually had a Jewish name: Tiferet she’b’Tiferet.
Each spring, we Jews have the opportunity to usher progressively more holiness into our lives through the sacred act of counting the Omer. The 49 days between the first day of Passover and the first day of Shavuot provide a perfect square in time — seven weeks of seven days; each one gets counted as a critical step in reenacting the transformative journey from the Egyptian Exodus to the Revelation at Mt. Sinai. The mystics understood this s’firah — this period of counting — as an opportunity to contemplate 49 different combinations of 7 fundamental Divine qualities, or s’firot. Each week has one of these divine qualities connected to it, and so does each day of the week. This means that each day is a unique pairing from these 7 s’firot — the 4th day of the 2nd week, the 5th day of the 7th week, etc. Each pairing suggests a certain way of being in the world and of experiencing reality. Once each week, the same s’firah appears twice — the same number day within the same number week. This alignment offers double the power for actualizing that one quality.
Noa Tiferet was born on the 17th day of the Omer, the 3rd day of the 3rd week, Tiferet she’b’Tiferet — the day of beauty within the week of beauty. One of the beauties of the Jewish calendar is its lunar consistency, meaning that the 17th day of the Omer, Tiferet she’b’Tiferet, always falls at the first appearance of the thinnest crescent moon after Passover. Each year on Noa Tiferet’s Hebrew birthday, as we count the Omer and look up into the sky, we are greeted by that beautiful crescent shining down on us. And each year, we remember Doris Sack, a woman who lived to the full age of 93, and taught us to appreciate all of life’s beauties, especially the subtle and delicate crescent moon.