06 Sep The Torah Way To Go To Sleep
When preparing ourselves for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many people concentrate upon character refinement. They might work hard to improve their anger control, they struggle mightily to stamp-out forbidden feelings of hate and jealousy, or they try to purge from their minds sinful thoughts. All of these pursuits are wonderful and absolutely necessary, but I would like to zoom-in on another aspect of personal improvement: On bettering our actual day-to-day religious behavior.
Let’s use as an example how we get ready to go to sleep in the evening. The Mishnah Berurah strongly recommends that we make a personal accounting, a Cheshbon Hanefesh, before we retire every night. He suggests that we review the day’s events and scrutinize whether we tripped-up with such sins as lying, mockery, speaking Loshon Hora, and he urges a special careful daily audit in the area of bitul Torah, neglecting our Torah study. In a contemporary vein, we might add perhaps that we must analyze the day’s events and see whether we lost our temper, whether we were insensitive, and how we behaved with our spouse, our children, our parents, our friends, and our co-workers. Numerous other reflections are possible too. Did we daven with a minyan? Did we pay attention to our prayers? Did we make brochos properly and answer ‘Amen’ correctly? We might also add the following personal question: Did we invest sufficiently in our Olam HaBa, our Afterlife, on this particular and irreplaceable day?
While this may seem a lot to do when we are on the verge of collapse and ready to turn-in for the night, with some practice it really can be done very quickly and can be very rewarding. The Chofetz Chaim, Zt”l, Zy”a, adds that we should forgive anyone who wronged us or caused us pain during the day just passed. He writes that, in the merit of doing this, we will earn long life. This is easier said than done but, after all, long life is worth some effort and hardship. In a similar vein, the Zohar, in Parshas Mikeitz, teaches us that one who on his own forgives sincerely those who have wronged him – and instead takes steps to do good towards them – will be saved from death. The Shlah Hakodosh writes that it is a Jewish custom to kiss the mezuzah before retiring for the night. The word ‘mezuzos’ contains the same letters as the words zaz maves, which means that ‘death will leave,’ hinting to the powerful protection potential of the mezuzah.
Every Torah Jew, including, busy men and women, tired boys and girls, should say at least the first chapter of Krias Shema before going to sleep. It is preferable to say all three parshios-sections, of Shema together with the words ‘Kel Melech Ne’emon,’ for together they total two hundred and forty-eight words which correspond to the two hundred and forty-eight limbs of the body and affords them special nightly protection. The nighttime blessing of Hamapil should also be said whenever possible.
It is important to realize how vital these nightly rituals are. In Yiddishkeit, we are taught, “Hakal holeich achar hachasom,” that everything goes after the finale. As such, what we do at the end of the day is critical in measuring the success and failure of our entire day. It is said that the saintly Satmar Rebbe R’ Yoel Teitelbaum, Zt”l, Zy”a, took more time saying Krias Shema al hamitah and the bracha of Hamapil than the amount of time that he actually slept!!
We must also consider that many of us sleep for about one-third of our lives. In the future, when Hashem judges us, most of us will draw a blank for all of the time we spent sleeping since, after all, we didn’t do mitzvahs while we were snoring away in our beds. However, with just a little nightly attention, we can convert a full one-third of our lives into dynamic mitzvah production for we have a halachic rule that ‘Hechsher miztvah k’mitzvah, the preparation for a mitzvah is considered like a mitzvah itself. Therefore, before we lay down and go to sleep for the night, we should contemplate or even verbalize that we are going to sleep so that we can daven better and learn with greater concentration the next day. Then, our sleep becomes a hechsher mitzvah for davening and Torah study. If a woman, before retiring, thinks to herself that she is going to sleep so that she will be more patient with her children in the morning and fresh and full of vigor for her husband the next day, she converts her sleep into a shalom bais and chinuch activity. Then, after one hundred and twenty years, when we get up to Shamayim, we will be able to present all our years with one hundred percent productivity. In the merit of always trying to improve ourselves may Hashem bless us all with long life, good health and everything wonderful.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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