When I was growing up, and really throughout my life, I always had a hard time in the transition periods. Between school and camp, between graduation and college, between engagement and marriage, and between the decision to move to Israel and the actual aliya. There is a yiddish phrase to describe this time and why it is so hard: it is nisht a hin and nisht a herr– neither here nor there. The place with (seemingly) no purpose.
But there is a term in Halacha to describe this time as well. As each day ends, there is an in-between period, a time that is no longer really day but not yet the next night. It is called Bein HaShmashos, usually translated as twilight, but really meaning in-between the suns, or in between days.
What exactly is Bein HaShmashos? Is it both day and night? Is it neither? Is it just a necessary halachic tool that exists because of our inability to pinpoint exactly the moment that day ends and night begins? Surely Hashem knows exactly when one day ends and another begins, and yet, in Pirkei Avos (4:5), the Mishnah describes how 10 things were created Bein Hashmashos just before the first Shabbos came in- including the mouth of Miriam’s Well, the rainbow, the Manna, Moshe’s staff, as well as the letters, writing, and material of the original Tablets of the 10 Commandments.
This is an intriguing idea. Why did Hashem choose precisely that period? Did He run out of time? Did He quickly have to “finish up” before Shabbos came in? Surely not. The answer must be that this period of time has its own special energy- a unique atmosphere that doesn’t exist at any other time and, therefore, lends itself to the creation of things that contain within them the strength of transition…to give strength TO a transition.
For example, Miriam’s Well and the Manna were the food and water of the desert for 40 years enabling Bnei Yisrael to grow into a free people with an identity of their own. The rainbow signalled the transition from the world before the flood to a new world with new potential. The Tablets signalled the giving of the Torah which enabled the people of the world to know how to elevate this world in the service of Hashem. And so on.
This week has felt to me like Bein HaShmashos. We are not in lockdown anymore. The kids have started school again, the stores are opening and things are changing. But we’re not “back to normal” and it for sure doesn’t yet feel like we’re in Geula. But I have to believe that this Bein HaShmashos carries with it it’s own energy. The energy of transition. There is some new strength that we must develop during this time that we couldn’t develop any other way.
There is a well known Chabad Chassid, Reb Mendel Futerfas, who passed away in 1995 and who had spent many years in Soviet labor camps and prisons for teaching Torah and helping keep Yiddishkeit alive in the Soviet Union. After his release, Reb Mendel became a mashpia and shared stories of the people he had met and how he made it through that experience still connected to Hashem. In one story, he related that he once met and then saw a high-wire performer do his act. He wondered to the man, “How is a person able to walk across that thin little wire without holding on to anything and with no safety net?” Reb Mendel saw that the man focused firmly on the pole at the other end of the wire and never once took his eyes off of it- until he had to turn. During the turn, he lost his focus for one split second before finding the pole on the other end once again with his eyes. The turn is the most dangerous part. The turn, the transition, is when you have to accustom yourself to a new way of seeing the goal. The tightrope walker didn’t fall because he knew exactly what to look for at the end of the turn- he continued to have the balance from the old focal point to carry him through until he connected to the strength from the new one. Really the same goal but from a new perspective.
I give us all a bracha to feel the energy of transition as a push to refocus on our goal, to have the strength to use this time as an active bridge between who we were two months ago and who we want to be two months from now and to know that something is being created now in each of us that could only have happened “in-between” and that we will take with us into the Shabbos of all Shabbosim.