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There was evening and there was morning……

In its description of the story of Creation, the book of Genesis, or B’rashit describes each day as beginning in the evening.  Is there some message in this about how we should conduct ourselves as human beings? As a Jew I believe that while, indeed, there is a G-d and that She created us in Her image, that Creation was not simply a historic event that occurred at sometime in the past. To the contrary, our Creator, being infinitely creative, created the Universe much like the playwright created Tony & Tina’s Wedding; we are never mere observers (a passive audience) of the events that occur all around us. We play as much a part in how the show ends as our Creator, Herself. In Yiddishkeit, this  is called Tikun Olam or repairing the Universe. Tikun Olam reconciles the seemingly paradoxical concepts of an omniscient Creator while each of Her creations have free will. While we mere mortals do not have the power to change the past, we can, by exerting our will, change the outcome of anything that has already occurred. An unfortunate but powerful example of Tikun Olam in action is the Holocaust. Two out of every 3 Jews living in Europe in the 1930s and 40s were systematically exterminated by the Nazis and their collaborators and, try as some may, there is nothing anyone can do to change this fact. However, within 3 years of being liberated by the Allied Forces (including the former Soviet Union), many of the survivors of the Holocaust garnered their collective will and not allow Hitler to reign triumphant they instead repatriated with their ancient Homeland in the newly formed modern State of Israel!

So you may ask, what does this have to do with whether our day starts at midnight versus when we decide to wake up in the morning or at sundown? The answer is that to live a life where we effect the world in which we live and not it affecting us, we better bring our A Game every day.Modern neuroscience teaches us that we can only function (perform) optimally when our Circadian Rhythm (our internal clock) is aligned with the rhythm of our planet, such as night and day (Diurnal Rhythm). After all, Hashem created us here, on the 3rd rock from the sun. If our Creator wanted us to be angels perhaps we would have wings and be floating somewhere up in the atmosphere but, instead She planted us firmly here on the ground otherwise known as the planet Earth; and us Earthlings must begin today with some preparation this evening. Rabbi Tarfon taught: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either” (Pirkei Avot-2:16). That being said, each day must have a beginning and an end. Just as we know that if we want our beloved Personal Computers (PCs) to function optimally each day when we turn them on, we need to close down each open Window, one at a time before we shut it off, we Earthlings share this same need.  Our G-d given human effectiveness runs on the same set of tracks as our sense of wakefulness, which peaks soon after awakening and gradually degrades as the day progresses into evening, when we become drowsy and the cycle starts anew. While feeling drowsy is something with which we all can identify, diminished effectiveness or our executive function (the neuroscience equivalent of Tikun Olam) is not as noticeable. Never the less, executive function is the first of our brain’s functions to decline when we are sleep deprived or drowsy. A major review conducted in 1996 suggested that the oil spill of the Exxon Valdez, the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger, the nuclear accident at Chernobyl (costing over 4,000 lives) and the near nuclear accidents at the Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom reactors were all associated with sleep deprivation of the people involved. Sleepy driving causes as many car crashes as driving under the influence.

During the course of our hectic days, there are multiple Windows open in our brains, as it should be when we are putting our signatures on the world. However, just as our PCs, our brains cannot switch from having multiple open Windows to off without some untoward effects upon reopening these same Windows come morning time. In order for it to be fully restorative, we must not only get the proper measure of sleep, we must get the proper quality of sleep, as well. Many people, under the incorrect assumption that work time and sleep time is a zero sum game, will continue to attempt to problem solve up to the minute they fall asleep. In reality, their productivity is reduced by this habit. Just as with our PCs, to keep our performance of Tikun Olam at an optimal level, we need to start the process of closing down some of our open Windows well before it is time for sleep. The 90 minutes we spend chilling out and relaxing in the evening is a mandatory pre-requisite for restoring our ability to do Tikun Olam come morning time; it was evening and it was morning.


Mitchell R. Weisberg, MD. MP