We sing these words every Erev Shabbat right after we recite Barchu, our official call prayer and the beginning of the Maariv service. These are the evening prayers that follow the Kabbalat Shabbat service (the welcoming or more literally, the receiving of Shabbat).
The beginning of the Maariv service is also known as Shema u’Virchotecha, (The Shema and her blessings), which is the basic opening rubric of every evening prayer service. This rubric leads us through three central themes of our history and liturgy: creation, revelation, and redemption. Shema, our declaration of faith in one God lies at the center of these three themes.
Maariv Aravim serves as our “creation” liturgy, blessing God for speaking the night into being. This prayer is quite poetic. Joel Hoffman (My People’s Prayer Book: Welcoming the Night Vol. 9, p. 49) illucidates that the opening line “asher bidvaro maariv aravim” means much more than “who speaks the evening into being.” Both aravim/erev and ma’ariv come from the root “ע.ר.ב” Ayin, Resh, Bet. This particular root formation builds the following words: “entering, sunset, west and evening.”
Sing or listen to this text thinking about night as it enters our windows creeping like rolling storm clouds, the sunset rolling into deep shades of gold-orange and red-purple as it rolls into the west. This prayer becomes all-encompassing. The night itself is active creation; we bless God at the exact moments light moves into darkness. This active experience allows us to recognize that creation is dynamic; it is something that is always taking place around us. If creation is happening all of the time, then we are truly a part of something larger than we can imagine. This text, and our participation in singing and chanting it together, allows us become a part of that vast web of interconnectivity. Within that expanse we can find holiness, connect to the earth and creation, connect to ourselves and to our community, to God, and to Judaism.
Noam Katz’s liturgical setting “Roll into Dark”, which we sing most Friday nights may seem like a simple tune that repeats over and over again. We sing two verses in English, then Hebrew, then back to English. Noam Katz created this liturgical setting as a round; if we wanted we could keep singing the song without end. I believe he sets the text in this specific way, so as to mirror the circles of creation and its poetry so beautifully described by Joel Hoffman.
We are constantly rolling; moving in our souls from light to darkness and back, moving from night to day and back, moving into fall and winter and back to the lighter seasons of spring and summer. Each circle begets another, and God remains at the center of each one; keeping us grounded as we experience ongoing moments of holiness.
Please do not forget to join us this Friday night, for an especially moving Shabbat, as we formally install Rabbi Rachael Miller and Rabbi Max Miller. We will sing and pray together, create holiness, and welcome this amazing dynamic duo into our community!
B’shira L’Shalom, in Song and in Peace.
Basic Reform Shabbat Evening Rubric: Kabbalat Shabbat (Psalms of welcoming Shabbat, ending in our synagogue with Lcha Dodi, followed by Barchu- call to prayer, Shema and Her Blessings, Amidah, Concluding Prayers Aleinu, Kaddish) For different holy days, prayers become added, or expanded depending on the time of year.
 Creation: Maariv Aravim (Yotzeir Or in morning) Revelation: Ahavat Olam(Ahava Raba in morning)-Shema-Vahavta Redemption: Michamocha