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Home » Vayakhel

Vayakhel: Sleep is Good

Submitted by on February 25, 2019 – 10:32 pmOne Comment | 965 views

Vayakhel: Sleep is Good

Sleep is good for you, or so they say. But how much sleep is good? Maimonides suggested eight hours—one third of the day. I haven’t met anyone who disagrees with the notion that sleep is good, but I have often wondered why sleep is necessary? Wouldn’t it have been better if we didn’t have to waste fully a third of our lives in a comatose state, accomplishing absolutely nothing?

The same can be asked of the universe, why does the sun need to set and cloak the world in darkness, wouldn’t it be better if there was light through the night? In fact, the whole universe is set to the rhythm of give and take. The tides come and go. The seasons flit in and out. Why can’t the tide be constantly high and the temperature constantly dry?

The human body is also set to this rhythm. We breathe in and out, why doesn’t the body have a constant supply of oxygen? Why does everything go stale, why does night fall on our days, seasons, bodies, and world? Why do we need to settle down and rise again, why is sleep good, wouldn’t constancy be better?

Renewal

Some argue, and correctly so, that without regular breaks we would never experience renewal. If we were constantly on the go, we wouldn’t be able to pause and take stock. We couldn’t reconsider and redirect. If we were on an errant path, our constant momentum wouldn’t allow for change. In fact, even if we were on the right path and making steady progress, being constantly on the go would prevent us from making quantum leaps. To make a radical change, to introduce a fresh insight, an original perspective, we must first disengage. Only because night falls, does the morning dawn with the force of renewal.

Furthermore, without darkness we wouldn’t appreciate light. We thrive on contrasts; we want what we can’t have. When we have light, we crave the comfort and intimacy of darkness. When we are in the dark, we grow desperate for light. We grow bored with routine.

These points are all true, but they beg the fundamental question. Why did G-d make us this way? Why do we crave what we don’t have? Why do we grow bored with routine? Why do we thrive on contrasts? Why can’t we gain fresh insight and make quantum leaps even as we move forward at full velocity? And it’s not just us. It is embedded in the very existence of the universe. Existence craves contrasts. Why is that?

Primordial Darkness

The answer in Kabbalistic terms is that before we were, we weren’t. Before G-d created the world and filled it with light, there was darkness. The night is not just what is left when the day departs, the night is what precedes the day. When there is night, it tells us that day will follow. When the sun sets, we know it will rise on the morrow.

G-d did not create us to remain static. G-d created us so that we could grow. So that we could continually recreate ourselves. This is why we don’t enjoy the perpetual blessing of day. We are creatures of recreation. We live out our term and are created anew. The day fades and ends. Night falls, a new darkness reigns, and from this darkness, we rise again, created anew.

This diet of daily renewal ensures that we are never content with our current state. We know it will end soon, and we will need to recreate ourselves in a new and unprecedented way. This ensures that we are constantly aware of how much more we can grow, how much better we can become.

Two Cherubs

The is the secret behind the two cherubs that extended from the Holy Ark. The Kabbalists taught that one was not enough, we needed two. One represents constancy. Two represents growth and change. The movement from where we are to where we ought to be. The disenchantment with what is, and the yearning for what could be. The very fabric of existence is suspended in the tension between the two.

One cherub represents G-d, the other cherub represents us. The space in between is the unbridgeable gulf, the infinite divide. And yet, this endless span, is one that we are meant to bridge. Our very existence is predicated on bridging this gap. It is our raison d’etre.

Before Creation, before the universe, there was only G-d. Nothing else existed. G-d tore a part of Himself away and used it to create the world. The stardust from which the universe is formed is a manifestation of G-d Himself. Nevertheless, in its current state, it is as far from G-d as one can conceivably be. What used to be creator, is now creation.

On the surface, the universe seems at peace with itself. But under this false exterior, there roils an unceasing storm of unease. It is the tension between what was, what is, and what can again be. What was, is G-d. What is, is a universe. What can once again be, is a return to our primordial consciousness. To realize that we are not apart from G-d, but a part of G-d.

This constant tension is the fabric of all existence. Suspended between high and low, the transcendental and the imminent, the grand and the mundane, the possible and the probable, what is and what can be, where we are and where we want to be, we can never be at peace. The reason we grow bored with routine is that we are dissatisfied with our very state of existence. How can we be content when we know the gulf between where we are and where we want to be?

This is why we find ourselves unable to make peace with either day or night. In the day, we want to rest. In the night, we want to wake. At work we want to vacation. At vacation we feel useless and grow restless and can’t wait to return to work. It’s not just us, it’s the universe. Night can’t reign, it’s pushed away by the light. Day can’t prevail, it is driven away by the dark. Summer’s nourishing heat is replaced by winter’s ravishing cold. Spring’s refreshing lease on life is replaced by Fall’s explosion of color.

This is all a manifestation of our innate desire to revert to what we once were; to be a part of G-d. When we go to sleep at night, we are not lying comatose achieving nothing. Our soul takes a break from living in the world, and returns to G-d, where it is reenergized and refreshed. But we can’t feel content in sleep either because G-d did not tear us away from Himself so that we could return to Him. He tore us away from Himself so we can live in this world and make it holy.

This is the constant tension that drives us to distraction from wake to sleep, from sleep to wakefulness, from night to day and from day to night. We yearn to be back with G-d, but we are driven to return to our assignments. Then we grow tired of being on assignment, and yearn once again to be with G-d.

However, each time we come and go, we return with a new lease on life. When we break from routine and reconnect with G-d, we return with a fresh insight and new perspective that redirects our path and renews our orientation. It isn’t just pausing our forward momentum that enables us to take stock—to pause and reflect. It is that when our soul spends time with G-d, it returns with a Divine perspective on our role, our purpose and the direction that we need to take.[1]

[1] This essay is based on Torah Ohr, parshas Teruman and Toras Chayim parshas Tetzaveh.

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