13 Tamuz 5779 / Tuesday, July 16, 2019 | Torah Reading: Pinchas
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Proper Sleep    

Proper Sleep

One of the most seemingly innocent weapons of the evil inclination (EI) is sleep. That's the way the EI robs a person of his or her most beautiful hours…


Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody


Would you like to know how the Evil Inclination (EI) robs people of their finest hours? The EI puts them to sleep…


The lust for sleeping is the EI's most seemingly innocent yet cogent weapons. Improper sleep is the cause of many negative emotions that keep a person away from Hashem.


So what's the difference between improper sleep and proper sleep? Improper sleep is the result of laziness, lack of motivation, emotional fatigue or simply the lust for sleeping. Many people are entangled in this lust, for they look forward to bedtime their entire day. Their bodily comforts are on a much higher priority than their emuna and their relationship with Hashem.


Proper sleep is the person's desire to renew his mental and physical energy so that he can serve Hashem better. The proper sleeper goes to bed yearning for Hashem. Before he lies down, he says the Kriat Shema with such intent that he really is willing to sacrifice his life right then and there in order to sanctify Hashem's Name. He falls asleep thinking about Hashem, reciting Psalms in his head or reviewing Mishnayot by heart until he falls asleep. For this person, sleep is part of his service of Hashem.


Where do bad dreams come from? The Zohar says that there is a camp of evil angels that contaminate the soul of a person who sleeps improperly; such a person is prone to bad dreams, the ones that come from the sitra achra, the dark side of spirituality, the opposite of holiness.


With the above elements in mind, we can easily understand that proper sleeping is one of the biggest wars in the world, necessitating us to overcome the EI and sleep for Hashem's sake, not for the sake of our bodily indulgence. When I gave over this lesson to my dear student Rabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Brody, may Hashem bless him, he commented that according to this principle, the whole nightlong struggle between our forefather Jacob and Esau's angel was the latter's attempt to "knock Jacob out" and put him to sleep. Yet, Jacob was so strong in his yearning for Hashem that he subdued the angel. Rashi tells us that before Jacob got married, he learned for thirteen years consecutively, day and night with no sleep, in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever.


We can't talk about sleep without talking about waking up. What does it mean to "wake up" from an emuna viewpoint? Waking up simply means seeing Hashem. A person in a spiritual slumber doesn't see Hashem. Tired people don't see Hashem. As a result, we can define fatigue merely as slackening emuna, for when a person is with Hashem – truly clinging to Him – his emuna is constantly recharged. That's how Moses learned with Hashem for forty consecutive days and nights without sleeping a wink, on three different occasions!


Certainly, we are mortals. We run out of gas. We must sleep to renew our energy, just as we must eat to renew our energy. But, just as there is lustful eating that not only fails to renew energy but also destroys a person's health, such as drinking cola and eating candy, there is also sleep that is lustful. This is the sleep that's designed for bodily enjoyment and not for serving Hashem. This is the sleep that leads to a "tired soul", the soul that lacks energy and motivation, the lazy soul. It is lazy because it doesn't realize what an important mission it has in this world. There is nothing easier for the EI to overcome than a tired soul. This is the type of emotional fatigue that is tantamount to spiritual death.


The Gemara tells us that King David never slept. Whenever he had to renew his energy, he would close his eyes for "sixty winks" and then he'd be right back in action. King David writes, "So that my soul might sing to You and not be stilled, Hashem, my G-d, forever will I thank you" (Psalm 30:13). Our esteemed Mashgiach, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Linder shlit”a told me that while commenting on this passage, the Chattam Sofer osb"m said that if a person is truly happy, he is energized and he doesn't need to sleep.


Certainly, none of us are yet on the level of Jacob, Moses and King David, but we should certainly learn from them. Our great sages, including Rebbe Nachman and Rebbe Natan, flew out of bed at midnight in eager anticipation to begin their day in the service of Hashem. It's well-known that they squeezed the essence out of every moment and only slept when absolutely necessary. Such is the proper sleep of those whose motivation is to serve Hashem. Such is the key to a healthy and energized soul. May we all merit such a soul, amen!

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