Episode 3: To Evening the Evenings (Ma’ariv Aravim) with Alexander Nemser

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Full transcript is here.

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Our opening question: what has been on your heart this week? 

Josh talks about his excitement to be returning to Ramah in Wisconsin. Ramah in Wisconsin is one of ten overnight camps and five day camps in the U.S, Canada, and Israel. Ramah is affiliated with the Conservative movement. (2:15)

Eliana describes Josh’s reflection on creating Jewish memories back in person as a machaya – מחיה. This phrase refers to being brought back to life. Here, it’s used to describe Josh’s elated feeling of returning to life in person after the pandemic. (3:09)

(8:12) Eliana tells a story of how incredible it felt to visit with a friend. The Torah teaches the importance of welcoming guests, as a commandment called Hachnasat Orchim –  הכנסת אורחים.  

Eliana mentions the Yotzer Or + Or Chadash prayer. יוצר אור + אור חדש. The name of this prayer can be translated as “a new light” and includes themes of light, newness, and creation. 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֽשֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא אֶת־הַכֹּל: 

Baruch atah ado-nai elo-heinu melech haolam yotzer or u-voreh choshech oseh shalom u’voreh et hakol. 

Blessed are You, G?D, ruler of the universe, creator of light, former of darkness, maker of peace, creator of all things. (Translation based on Sefaria) 

You can learn more about this prayer on Episode 2 of the Light Lab Podcast here. (9:29)

Eliana mentions the Shema, שמע. This prayer centers on the one-ness of G?D, G?D’s love for us, and the commandments we do to show we love G?D. (9:29)

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ יְהֹוָה אֶחָד: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad. 

Hear, Israel: G?D is our G?D, G?D is one. (Translation based on Sefaria) 

Eliana talks about the morning service and the evening service. The morning service is called שחרית –  shacharit, and the evening service is called מעריב – maariv.

In this episode, we talk in detail about the version of the first blessing before the shema that appears in  מעריב maariv, the evening service. (10:46). The prayer is called maariv aravim – מעריב ערבים.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר בִּדְבָרוֹ מַעֲרִיב עֲרָבִים בְּחָכְמָה פּוֹתֵֽחַ שְׁעָרִים וּבִתְבוּנָה מְשַׁנֶּה עִתִּים וּמַחֲלִיף אֶת־הַזְּ֒מַנִּים וּמְסַדֵּר אֶת־הַכּוֹכָבִים בְּמִשְׁמְ֒רוֹתֵיהֶם בָּרָקִֽיעַ כִּרְצוֹנוֹ: בּוֹרֵא יוֹם וָלָֽיְלָה גּוֹלֵל אוֹר מִפְּ֒נֵי חֽשֶׁךְ וְחֽשֶׁךְ מִפְּ֒נֵי אוֹר וּמַעֲבִיר יוֹם וּמֵבִיא לָֽיְלָה וּמַבְדִּיל בֵּין יוֹם וּבֵין לָֽיְלָה יְהֹוָה צְבָאוֹת שְׁמוֹ: אֵל חַי וְקַיָּם תָּמִיד יִמְלֹךְ עָלֵֽינוּ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה הַמַּעֲרִיב עֲרָבִים:

Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech haolam, asher bidvaro ma’ariv aravim behochma poteach shearim oovetvoona meshane eeteem oomachaleef et hazmanim oohmesander at hakochavim be’meeshmeroteihem barakeeya ceertzono. Bore Yom va’laila golel or meepnei choshech, vechoshech meepnei or. Ooma’avir yom oomeivee laiyla oomavdil bein yom ooveyn liylah, Adonai tzevaot shemo. El chai vekayam tamid yimloch aleinu leolam va’ed. Barch atah adonai hamaariv aravim.

Translation from Open Siddur:  We bless you, our Eternal One Sovereign reality of the universe. You speak a word and evening comes. In wisdom you open the gates of the sky. In infinite understanding you establish the shifts of the seasons, the cycles of creation. With unfathomable desire, you give pattern to the stars, you are creating day and night, rolling away light to make way for darkness and darkness to make way for light. In this very moment, you are removing day and bringing night you are Adonai Tzevaot, you are a living G?D, our eternal point of reference. We bless you eternal source of blessings, who brings us our evenings. 

Eliana exclaims oy vavoy – אי ואבוי when telling the story about the shepherd. This is a yiddish phrase, used for when something went wrong or was inconvenient. 

Chatima = חתימה describes the blessing that comes at the end of a prayer. 

Ellen shares a translation/poem of this prayer by Danny Siegal, who she describes as a Tzedaka – צדקה – maven. Tzedaka means “charity” or “justice,” and Danny Siegel has spent his career bringing encouraging tzedaka in Jewish communities and highlighting tzedaka heros.  (17:39)

Here is Danny Siegal’s translation/poem of maariv aravim – מעריב ערבים

Praised are you Adonai, author of time and space, who brings on evening with a word, opens Heaven’s gates with wisdom, adjusts the ages, varies the seasons, and orders the orbits of a sky full of stars. You create each day and each night afresh, roll light in front of darkness and darkness in front of light. You do this so gently, that no moment is quite like the one which precedes it. Second by second you make day pass into night. And you alone know the boundary point dividing one from the other. Unifier of all beings, is your name. Timeless G?D, rule forever. Praised are you oh G?D who brings on the evening. 


Josh’s translation of מַעֲרִיב עֲרָבִים maariv aravim – is to evening the evenings. 

He compares the structure of that phrase to this line in the Shema:  

וְהָיָה אִם־שָׁמֹֽעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל־מִצְוֹתַי אֲשֶׁר֯ אָ֯נֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְ֒כֶם הַיּוֹם לְאַהֲבָה אֶת־יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וּלְעָבְ֒דוֹ בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁכֶם:

V’haya eem shamoa teeshmeu el mitzvotai asher anochi metzaveh etchem hayom leahava et adonai eloheichem ooleavdo bechol levavchem oovechol nafshechem. 

Josh translates the bolded part as: you shall surely listen, or you should really listen.  

Josh also compares the structure of the phrase מַעֲרִיב עֲרָבִים maariv aravim to a line in the Torah describing capital punishment: מות תמות – mot tamoot. Josh translates this as surely that person shall die.  (23:21)

Eliana talks about  Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi’s translation of the word ערב – arev. You can read his full translation at OpenSiddur.

Eliana mentions the line כי קולך ערב – ki kolech arev from Song of Songs. She translates this as your voice is pleasant or beautiful. You can find the full text here

Alexander mentions having a hevruta – חברותא. This is a study partner. 

Alexander also talks about his childhood love for the poem Tyger Tyger Burning Bright by William Blake. You can find that poem here. (35:19)

Alexander mentions the prayer that Jonah says when he’s inside the belly of the whale. You can find that text here. (38:37)

Alexander reads his original poem “Voice of the Future,” which can be found here. (43:12)

Real Talk with the Universe is a prayer-poetry workshop series with Eliana and Alexander. Learn more here. (47:25)

Favorite Melodies:

Josh’s Pick: Roll Into Dark by Noam Katz

Ellen’s Pick: Josh Nelson (hear Ellen play it on the podcast!)

Eliana’s Pick: Ma’ariv Aravim by Chava Mirel

Josh mentions learning from Noam Katz at Hava Nashira, which is a conference of Jewish worship and music run by Union for Reform Judaism. Learn more here. (51:36)

גולל גלילים – gollel galgalim – means turning wheels. 

Ellen quotes from a poem called “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. The full poem can be found here. (57:19)

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