Ma'ariv Aravim - The God Who Evenings the Evening

Tanchuma, Berachot 7

"What kinds of people are called dead even when they are alive? Those who see the morning sunlight...those who see the sun set...those who eat and drink, and are not stirred to say a blessing" --Tanhuma, Berakhot, 7

Ma'Ariv Aravim - Text and Translation

Maariv Aravim is the first blessing before the Shema and generally the opening prayer of the Evening Service, or Maariv. It is considered to be the parallel prayer to Yotzer Or, which is recited in the same place during the morning service (Shacharit). Just as Yotzer Or speaks of the coming of light, Maariv Aravim speaks of the coming of darkness. These are considered the first preperatory blessings for the recitation of Shema and affirm our appreciation for God's Creation. Maariv Aravim is a praise of God for bringing on the darkness, controlling the day and night, for ordering the stars in heaven, and for the seasons. While it is preferable to recite Maariv after dusk, it is permissible to recite this blessing any time after sunset, even if dusk has not occurred yet.

Ma'Ariv Aravim

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם אֲשֶׁר בִּדְבָרו מַעֲרִיב עֲרָבִים. בְּחָכְמָה פּותֵחַ שְׁעָרִים, וּבִתְבוּנָה מְשַׁנֶּה עִתִּים וּמַחֲלִיף אֶת הַזְּמַנִּים, וּמְסַדֵּר אֶת הַכּוכָבִים בְּמִשְׁמְרותֵיהֶם בָּרָקִיעַ כִּרְצונו. בּורֵא יום וָלָיְלָה, גּולֵל אור מִפְּנֵי חשֶׁךְ וְחשֶׁךְ מִפְּנֵי אור. וּמַעֲבִיר יום וּמֵבִיא לָיְלָה, וּמַבְדִּיל בֵּין יום וּבֵין לָיְלָה. יי צְבָאות שְׁמו: אֵל חַי וְקַיָּם תָּמִיד יִמְלוךְ עָלֵינוּ לְעולָם וָעֶד. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי, הַמַּעֲרִיב עֲרָבִים.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher bid’varo maariv aravim, b’chochmah potei-ach sh’arim, uvit’vunah m’shaneh itim umachalif et haz’manim, um’sadeir et hakochavim b’mishm’roteihem barakia kirtzono. Borei yom valailah, goleil or mipnei choshech, v’choshech mipnei or. Umaavir yom umeivi lailah, umavdil bein yom uvein lailah, Adonai Tz’vaot sh’mo. El chai v’kayam, tamid yimloch aleinu l’olam va-ed. Baruch atah, Adonai, hamaariv aravim.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe,
who speaks the evening into being,
skillfully opens the gates,
thoughtfully alters the time and changes the seasons,
and arranges the stars in their heavenly courses according to plan.
You are Creator of day and night,
rolling light away from darkness and darkness from light,
transforming day into night and distinguishing one from the other.
Adonai Tz’vaot is Your Name.
Ever-living God, may You reign continually over us into eternity.
Blessed are You, Adonai, who brings on evening.

Kol Haneshamah Reconstructionist Daily Siddur

Praised are you, God, ruler of the universe, who has ordained the rhythm of life. The day with its light calls to activity and exertion. But when the day wanes, when, with the setting of the sun, colors fade, we cease from our labors and welcome the tranquility of the night. The subdued light of the moon and stars, the darkness and the stillness about us invite rest and repose. Trustfully we yield to the quiet of sleep, for we know that, while we are unaware of what goes on within and around us, our powers of body and mind are renewed. Therefore, at this evening hour, we seek composure of spirit. We give thanks for the day and its tasks and for the night and its rest. Praised are you, God, who brings on the evening.

Divrei Mishkan T'filah: Delving into the Siddur (Rabbi Richard S. Sarason, PhD)

The evening Maariv Aravim (literally, "who mixes the twilight") blessing praises God for having created the cosmic order—the regular changing of the times and seasons as the celestial bodies rotate in their courses. God eternally "rolls light away from darkness and darkness from light" (this phrase already occurs in the Babylonian Talmud, B'rachot 11b). It is noteworthy that although this is an evening blessing, it does not leave us (figuratively, at least) "in the dark"; rather the dark is seen as part of a constantly recurring cycle of light and darkness that demonstrates the wisdom of its divine Creator. Because this benediction is relatively short, it has rarely been further abbreviated in Reform liturgies (unlike its morning counterpart), although individual prayer-book editors have taken literalist offense at some of its poetic imagery and pruned the text accordingly. The Union Prayer Book [1940], for example, in all of its editions, omitted the phrase "rolling light away from darkness and darkness from light"—although it is unclear at this distance whether the imagery was deemed objectionable or simply redundant. Mishkan T'filah (like Gates of Prayer [1975] before it) gives the full traditional text.

אלא אמר רבא כדי להזכיר מדת יום בלילה ומדת לילה ביום

Rava said: The reason we recite: “Who creates darkness” is in order to mention the attribute of day at night and the attribute of night during the day, and thereby unify day and night as different parts of a single entity.

The Gemara continues and asks: Granted, the attribute of night is mentioned during the day, as we say: Who forms light and creates darkness, but where do you find the attribute of day mentioned at night? In the blessing over the radiant lights recited at night there is no mention of “Who forms light.”

Abaye said: Nevertheless, the attribute of day is mentioned at night in the words: Rolling away light before the darkness and darkness before the light.

ברכת יוצר וערבית אומר עם הש"ץ בנחת: הגה וימהר לסיים קודם שסיים הש"ץ ויענה אמן אחר ש"ץ (הגהות מיימוני פ"א מהלכות ברכות ורוקח סימן רי"ח) ומיהו אם לא אמרה רק שמעה מש"ץ יצא דברכות אלו הש"ץ מוציא היחיד אע"פ שהוא בקי מיהו אין הש"ץ מוציא היחיד בפחות מי' (הר"י פ' מי שמתו) ולא יענה אמן אחר סיום הבוחר בעמו ישראל באהבה משום דהוי הפסק (ועיין לקמן סי' ס"ח):

The blessings for Yotzer (morning) and Maariv Aravim (evening) should be said alongside the prayer leader at a pleasant pace. COMMENT: And one should hasten to conclude before the prayer leader in order to answer Amen after the prayer leader... Nevertheless, if he did not say it but only listened to the words of the Shaliach Tzibbur [worship leader], then he has fulfilled his obligation with regard to these blessings, because with regard to these blessings the prayer leader can fulfill the obligation of one person, even if he is an expert. Nonetheless, the prayer leader may not fulfill the obligation of others with less than a minyan.

Philogos, The Forward (June 25, 2012)

The phrase ha-ma’ariv aravim occurs nowhere else in rabbinic literature and was the invention of the anonymous composer of this prayer, which dates to the early centuries of the Common Era. This was an era in which, paradoxically, Hebrew religious poetry was going through a period of great verbal expansion and experimentation at the same time that the last vestiges of spoken Hebrew were disappearing — a paradox explainable by the fact that the spoken language’s final demise freed the written language from the checks and restraints of spoken norms. The verb l’ha’ariv, for example, which comes from erev, “evening,” existed before, but only with the intransitive meaning of “to come in the evening,” as in the verse in Chapter 17 of the first book of Samuel, “And the Philistine [Goliath] came morning and evening [va-yigash ha-plishti hashkem v’ha’arev].” The composer of the ha-ma’ariv aravim prayer took the liberty of giving l’ha’ariv an additional, transitive meaning and coupled it with aravim, the plural of erev, to arrive at “who evenings evenings.”

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

... the two-word phrase which usually serves as the name of the prayer, מַעֲרִיב עֲרָבִים / ma'ariv aravim, [is] often translated as "Who Brings the Evening." The Hebrew word erev means evening, and it comes from the same root as ma'ariv, so there's a doubled root in the prayer/poem's title. That three-letter word root can also mean to mix a mixture of one thing and another. The doubled root in that one phrase acts as an intensifier, and it also hints at all of the root's other meanings -- the meaning of mixing, for instance, evokes how the twilight is created by mixing up a bit of afternoon with a bit of nightfall. Isn't that a gorgeous metaphor for what evening is?

Evening the Evenings

by Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael

Sacred words even the evenings
Wisdom opens gates locked around our hearts
Asher bid-varo ma'ariv aravim
B'chochmah potay'ach sh'arim.

Evening, the evenings
evening the frayed edges of our lives;
Ma'ariv aravim, amen.

Understanding alters with the times
Changing seasons, cycles divine;
U- vitvunah m'shaneh e-tim
u-machlif et ha-z'manim.

Paint diamonds on the canvas called sky
Sooth our souls with a lilting lullaby;
U-misader et ha-kochavim
B'mishm'rotayhem ba-rakiah kirtzono.

Rollin', rollin' into the night
Rollin' rollin' away the light;
Golayl or mip'nay choshech,
golayl hoshech mipnay or.

Spirit of the Night we bless Your Name
Eternal light, Eternal flame;
Ayl chai v'kayam tamid yimloch ah-laynu
L'olam va-ed.

Ma-ariv Aravim: An Interpretation (from On Wings of Light: A Hillel Siddur)
A wind, arrived from You

One evening by the sea,

Caught a cloud

And breathed it toward the sun

Whose cooling warmth drew it pink and orange,

Purple, yellow, gold Upon the strands,

And waves Your sea-wind had whipped white

Caught the gold

Laughed up the yellow

Till waves and clouds

Bright sea, bright sky

Rowed together, a tide of clouds come in,

A tide gone out

To welcome evening's sun

Like mystics surging toward Shabbat,

Its colors melting in the tide.

Let Evening Come

by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Adonai Tzeva'ot

The Hebrew phrase Adonai Tzeva'ot (יי צְבָאות) is one of the many names of God. It is often translated as "Lord of Hosts." The Hebrew word tzeva'ot (צְבָאות) can also be translated as "armies," giving the idea of God as a commander of all heavenly forces. The name is not used in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) but appears frequently in the later prophetic works, including Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi, as well as many times in the Psalms. Various commentators and interpreters have described God's "armies" or "hosts" as consisting of angelic beings, but have also suggested that all the elements of creation - atoms, molecules, etc. - are what is meant by "hosts." This latter idea alludes to God as the commander of all available physical particles that can come together to form tangible entities. Consider the following verse from Genesis 2:1, which describes a completed creation:

The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array (וְכָל־צְבָאָֽם) - all the atoms, molecules, and particles had been arranged in the right order to result in the physical world as we know it.

The name Adonai Tzeva'ot first appears in the book of Samuel, when a man named Elkanah heads to Jerusalem with his two wives, Hannah and Penina, to make sacrifices to God - or, specifically, to Adonai Tezva'ot (1 Samuel 1:3). Hannah, who is bereft over her childlessness, will remain behind to address God personally. She says:

“Adonai Tzeva'ot, if You will look upon the suffering of Your maidservant and will remember me and not forget Your maidservant, and if You will grant Your maidservant a male child, I will dedicate him to Adonai for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11)

Rashi, a medieval French commentator, explains that Hannah's use of this name was no coincidence; she seemed to be intentionally commenting on God's power:

She said before Him: 'O Ruler of the Universe, You created two hosts in Your world. The heavenly beings do not multiply, neither do they die, while the earthly beings both multiply and die. If I am of the earthly beings let me multiply, and if I am of the heavenly beings let me not die.' (Rashi on 1 Samuel 1:11)

The Talmud (Berachot 31a) explains that this was the first time any human being had called God by this name:

Rabbi Elazar explains that Hannah said before the Holy One, Blessed be God: 'Ruler of the Universe, are You not the Commander of the Hosts, and of all of the hosts and hosts of creations that You created in Your world, is it difficult in Your eyes to grant me one son? A parable: To what is this similar? It is similar to a flesh and blood king who made a feast for his servants. A poor person came and stood at the door. He said to them: Give me one slice of bread! And they paid him no attention. He pushed and entered before the king. He said to him: My lord, the King, from this entire feast that you have prepared, is it so difficult in your eyes to give me a single slice of bread? (Berachot 31a)

Therefore the phrase Adonai Tzeva'ot is meant to connote God's abundance of power, whether that be as commander of an army of angels or the master of all the ingredients of creation, as well as to hint that a God so powerful should not find it difficult to grant us small blessings.