Rabbinic Reflections: Freedom Time

I promise you that I expressed the wish to have that hour back. I expressed it in multiple ways from resenting the calculation to go to sleep early, the argument with the alarm clock that it had to be wrong, the fight with my body begging to keep its rhythms, and the disappointment at just how dark morning appeared just when it was recently getting sunny again.

I hate daylight savings, really; and, as a rabbi, I am attuned to the possibility, however remote, that there is meaning to draw from it. Hear me out, please.

March is a rough time for the time to change. We are being told to speed ourselves up an hour right when our calendars are telling us to get ready for big events. Christians go from Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday through Lent to Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. Muslims are getting ready for Ramadan. Jews switch from the festivity of Purim to preparations for Passover.

Many folks mark the vernal equinox. Sports fans get hyped for March Madness and the transition from hockey and basketball to baseball. Students and their families realize that the school year is about three-quarters through, bracing for the rush of the last quarter. Nature calls, too, with plants growing, flowers blossoming, and more. Our lives, individually and collectively, are full of attentiveness to time. It feels like the worst time to lose time.

Even harder than losing time last night is the knowledge that we, as humans, are choosing to make the change. Clocks shift all over the world — not everywhere but still significantly. That choice is where I began to wonder, maybe daylight savings is not all bad.

The Jewish tradition has many examples of a partnership between God and humanity when it comes to time. I will focus first on the case of Shabbat, the day of rest that ends the week. Shabbat starts at sundown on Friday and lasts twenty-five hours until it is dark enough to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. Week after week, the start and end time shift but the cycle remains the same. For believers, it is God’s will…except for one important detail: Jews can start Shabbat early if they wish. By making kiddush(sanctification), Jews can sanctify the “day” of Shabbat when it is still daylight on Friday. Even when sticking with the sundown time, Jews are supposed to “receive upon ourselves” Shabbat when we light candles or make kiddush. As much as Shabbat falls on us, we declare Shabbat.

The lunar cycle on which so many of the above-mentioned holidays are based shifts to a new month on March 23. For Jews, it will be the start of the Hebrew month of Nisan. Even though the Jewish year begins seven months earlier, we call Nisan the first of the months. We do so because it is the first expression of freedom during the Exodus narrative. God tells us in Exodus 12:2 to make it the first of our months. Again, the year may begin based on God’s creation, but in our calendar, we are told to make our own.

Going back to Shabbat for a moment, I want to share a trick that many Jewish overnight summer camps use to end Shabbat early without shortening it. Shabbat remains sundown to nightfall, and yet the camp collectively sets their clocks back an hour to “camp time” (daylight standard time) so that Shabbat starts an hour earlier, closer to dinner, and therefore ends with time for campers to end Shabbat with time to play before bed. Camp people call it part of the magic of camp.

For me, especially the Sunday after daylight savings, it is important to remember that it is a powerful freedom to have control over time. However much it feels like we are losing control, we as humans are actually asserting that we decide how to relate to God’s natural order. Whatever is given in the relationship between the sun, earth, and time, we can decide how to relate to that givenness, to the divine establishment of it, and to our role in shaping our experience of it. Daylight savings pains me, and it is our freedom time.

About Rabbi Jeremy Winaker

Rabbi Jeremy Winaker is the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hillel Network, responsible for West Chester University, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and other area colleges. He is the former head of school at the Albert Einstein Academy in Wilmington and was the senior Jewish educator at the Kristol Hillel Center at the University of Delaware for four years. Rabbi Winaker lives in Delaware with his wife and three children.

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