Between the Suns

by Hayley Goldstein, SVARA Fellow

A large group of SVARA-niks in the bet midrash watch as a learner high-fives a SVARA faculty member.

It seems that no matter what time the sun sets on Friday evening, there is never enough time. It’s a complete mystery how it happens but even at the summer solstice, when Shabbat comes in around 9pm, my partner and I are running around the house scrambling to set up the candles with dripping wet hair at the very last minute. In the Bet Midrash recently, we discovered that G!d too knows the pre-Shabbat hustle. In fact, They experienced the very first one. As we learned in Pirkei Avot 5:6,

עֲשָׂרָה דְבָרִים נִבְרְאוּ בְּעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת בֵּין הַשְּׁמָשׁוֹת

Ten things were created on the eve of the Sabbath at twilight

Twilight, literally “between the suns”, is a time of transition and liminality. A time between the binary of night and day. And, as one of the participants in the Mishnah Collective chatted enthusiastically, “The gayest time of day!” We learn more about this time in the Gemara (Shabbat 34b),

בֵּין הַשְּׁמָשׁוֹת סָפֵק מִן הַיּוֹם וּמִן הַלַּיְלָה, סָפֵק כּוּלּוֹ מִן הַיּוֹם, סָפֵק כּוּלּוֹ מִן הַלַּיְלָה

Twilight is a period of uncertainty. It is uncertain whether it consists of both day and night, it is uncertain whether it is completely day, and it is uncertain whether it is completely night.

In typical Gemara form, the questioning and dissecting of twilight doesn’t end there. They go on to talk about the particular redness in the sky that could define it, or the amount of time walking that could be an indicator of when this transient time begins and ends. Ultimately, it cannot be defined. It can’t conform. It remains as a time of day that is neither this nor that. 

As queer folks, we understand this “between the suns” time in our bones. We are experts in transforming, shapeshifting, and transcending binaries of gender and sexuality. We know what it means to truly be an Israelite, an Ivri, to be one who “passes through,” to be constantly moving through the liminal. It seems like no mistake, then, that in the list of ten things that G!d created in this time we get these three,

וְהַקֶּשֶׁת וְהַמָּן וְהַמַּטֶּה

The rainbow, the manna,

 the staff [of Moses]

In the Bet Midrash, we wondered what connects these three. Perhaps it’s the magical/transient nature of them, which would then make sense why they were created in this magical and transient time. Or, perhaps it is the way that they remind us of miracles, the rainbow a reminder of our covenant with G!d, the manna a reminder of the transition from slavery to freedom, and the staff which was the magic wand that split the sea that brought us out of Egypt. 

While Pride month has been co-opted to some degree by corporations trying to bait us with performative allyship, my blessing for us is that we can take a step back. Way back, to the beginning of time. To the first twilight, when, in a creative burst, G!d created the rainbow. A liminal, miraculous, colorful “neither this nor that” thing that we later claimed as our symbol. What better image to describe us? We are miracles, afterall. Our very existence pushes against societal walls, norms, and expectations. I never felt the truth of our miraculousness more clearly than in the SVARA Bet Midrash. 

I’ll never forget the first-ever Queer Tamud Camp in 2015 in Wisconsin. As we gathered for our first learning session in a beautiful wooden room with lofted ceilings, I looked around at us “between the suns” folks that filled the entire space. This is a miracle, I thought. Us being in this space, learning this text together, claiming it with our full hearts, is miraculous. This feeling is what brings me back to the text, the Bet Midrash, and to my hevruta every time. 

May we be blessed, this Pride month and every day, to know in our bones how miraculous we are. That, like twilight and like the rainbow which was birthed in twilight, our miraculousness lies in being undefinable, on our inability to conform to traditional concepts and norms, on existing as neither this nor that.

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