Jewish Thought

Excerpt: “Night and Day” by Joe Lieberman


During the Clinton administration, Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO, OU Kosher, regularly sent his longtime friend, President Bill Clinton, essays with insights from the Torah. The essays, some of which were written by other distinguished politicians, thinkers and scholars, were subsequently compiled into a book called Letters to President Clinton—Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership. The excerpt below, from Letters to President Clinton, was written by Senator Joe Lieberman.   


Edited by Rabbi Menachem Genack 
Sterling Ethos/OU Press
New York, 2013
288 pages

“Night and Day” 

Joseph Lieberman, March 1, 2000 

And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Gen. 1:5) 

The Biblical day begins with night and is followed by the morning. The Jewish Sabbath is thus ushered in with the setting of the sun. Benson Bobrick points out that in the colonial times the Christian Sabbath began on Saturday night, and was likewise measured from sunset to sunset.  

It has been puzzling to me that the day begins with night, the time of absence of light. Would it not have been more logical to calculate the day from the emergence of light, and then contrast the daylight period with its negation, night, the period of darkness? Why not coordinate the beginning of day with the morning-time, which initiates our daily activities, when we wake up?  

One answer may be that the Bible thought that we could not properly appreciate the daylight if we did not first experience the night.  

Night represents adversity, challenge, non-cognition. Even the mighty King Solomon is seized by terror at night. “Behold it is the litter of Solomon. Threescore mighty men are about it… because of the dread in the night” (Song 3:7–8). Day, blessed by the warmth and light of the sun, is a period of security, productivity, growth and hope. It is touched by all God’s blessings. However, to appreciate and properly evaluate the gifts of the day requires the experience of the emptiness of the night, because the night teaches us the importance of faith and courage. 

Psalm 92 is a song for the Sabbath day. In it the Psalmist chants, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord,… To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness in the nights” (Ps. 92:2–3). The morning, replete with God’s bounty and benevolence, requires that we are grateful for His infinite kindness; but the night, enveloped in dark trepidation, requires faith. 

There is a Rabbinic tradition recorded in the Midrash that this Psalm was not written by David, but by Adam. Adam came into being, sinned, and was expelled from Eden at the close of the sixth day. When the night of the first Sabbath descended, Adam thought that his sin had brought the end to Creation. The light was gone and he was surrounded by gloom. When the sun rose that Sabbath morning, and with it the message of hope and redemption, Adam sang this song of praise to God. After the night comes the day, with its promise of salvation and the hope for a new and better tomorrow. 


In response to this essay, President Bill Clinton sent Lieberman this handwritten note.

The note says:

Dear Joe: 

Thank you for your reflections on night and day, sin and repentance. All of us need to reflect on these things, no one more than me. 



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