Its only rivals are Seder and Kol Nidrei night.
Kol Nidrei is awesome – not only because of the prayers but because it literally articulates the verse, “In the multitude of people the King is glorified” (Prov. 14:28).
Seder night is joyful – not only because of the food, the wine, the Haggadah and the songs, but because we re-live our history and hopes.
The night-time invests all these occasions with unique excitement. And there are so many other wondrous evenings which between them supply the kaleidoscope of the Jewish year.
The whole story of Judaism begins at night: Vay’hi erev vay’hi voker… – “It was evening, then it was morning: one day”.
Every week has its Jewish night – Friday night: the time to re-connect with ourselves, our dear ones and friends, our identity, our tradition, our God.
Every festival is ushered in at night – not only Pesach and Yom Kippur, but Shavu’ot and Hoshana Rabbah with their all-night study; Sukkot, magical from the first evening; Simchat Torah with its proud Torah parade; Purim with the dramatic megillah, Tishah B’Av with the solemn Echah… Chanukah, becoming brighter with each evening.
There is an aura about evenings. The air is clearer. The pace has slowed down. It is a time for looking back on the day – and looking ahead to tomorrow.
Metaphorically the evening is also the time of hope, the darkness before the dawn. Even when night seems to have gone on too long, we know there will be a new day. We say with the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord? How long?” We want to know: why is the dawn taking so long?
This was our question in the days of Judah Maccabee, when the enemy that imposed a long night on Judea could not prevent the inexorable birth of the new era.
It was our question during the centuries of Diaspora history when hostile regimes were constantly seeking to put us in our place (as lowly as possible) if not to destroy us completely. It was the question of the Holocaust generation.
Whenever we asked the question we found that if one can get through the night, there will always be a new day. We discovered that the evenings are the moment for hope, faith and destiny.
Erev Tov is not only a greeting: it is an affirmation of Judaism.