The Jewish “day” begins at sundown. This is something that takes some getting used to, if you don’t grow up with it: the day begins when the sun dips below the horizon. The fact that you’ve been up for hours has nothing to do with anything.
Jewish living is like that, tilted 90 or 270 degrees from Western secular life. The day begins at sundown. The year begins in the fall. (Also in the middle of winter and in the springtime.) Sunday is yom rishon, the first day of the week (and it begins on Saturday night.) The whole thing is cockeyed.
Why not accommodate? Why not assimilate? Why not go with the flow, for crying out loud?
We stick with it because in Judaism, time is sacred. The traditional story is that the day begins at sundown because Genesis says so. But we could as well read it the opposite direction: we have that story to explain, to remind us, to keep stepping to that Jewish drummer: it was evening, it was morning, it was the first day. The creation story doesn’t tell us “how the world was made,” it tells us how to look at the world. It’s easy to say, the day begins when I get up in the morning — then the world revolves around my state of consciousness. It’s easy to say, the day begins at midnight, because the government and mutual agreement say so. But Genesis says, “It was evening, it was morning,” to throw us off balance, to say, “Stop! Look! Think! PAY ATTENTION!”
Notice the passage of time.
Notice the cycle of seasons.
Notice when the sun goes down and comes up, and that will require you to take your eyes off the computer screen, off the TV, off your own navel, and out to the horizon. Live out of step with the ordinary, so that you will step lively. Pay attention!
“Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder: How filled with awe is this place, and we did not know it! Blessed is the Eternal One, the holy God!”