Parsha Pearls: Sweet Holy Sleep
by Yochonon Donn
Sleep. Children hate it. Teenagers can’t get enough of it. Adults have a love/hate relationship with it. Older people crave it.
Why do we need to give a third of our lives to the mysterious condition which turns us into immobile zombies at sundown?
The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh has the answer.
Procrastinating when you have a long deadline is as age-old as man. Called the Student Syndrome, you’d sooner work on a project that has to be given in tonight than one which allows you a week to complete.
A wealthy king wanted to build a magnificent palace. He was imagining the gem-studded throne room, the resplendent drapes cloaking long hallways that conveyed the greatness of his monarchy to all who walked through. To that end, he hired a team of top-notch jewelers, and gave them each a veritable warehouse of precious stones, along with a deadline of ten years to finish the work.
Thrilled that they were entrusted with a mission of such importance to their ruler, the jewelers were determined to not disappoint him. They arrived at the job site the next morning, eager to begin.
However, the concept of a decade — a lifetime, to their eyes — blinded them. The early enthusiasm waned, the dedication slacked off, and they began taking off days, and then weeks, at a time. Life was good, wages were lavish, and the royal kitchens served the best caviar there was.
Several years passed. What they thought was a lifetime was quickly becoming a race-to-the-finish deadline that they may or may not make. Some of the jewelers began working seriously, leaning on overtime and nights and weekends. Others, though, still figured that five years, though perhaps not a lifetime, was enough time to enjoy another few weeks and then begin their job.
When the deadline ended, the results varied. Many of the jewelers were left shame-faced, the piles of gems they were given to cut and polish lying untouched. These were punished. Others managed to complete a respectable amount of work due to their cramming.
It was only the select few who never lost sight of their mission who finally reaped their reward. They handed the king the entire packet of cut, polished and designed gems, beaming with pride as the stones’ brilliance sparkled in the sun. These were amply rewarded with the delicacies they denied themselves the past decade.
But they were the exception, not the rule. The king, disappointed that so many of the people he trusted let him down, learned a lesson. The next time he had a project, he offered a shorter deadline and a commensurate fewer reward.
The same holds true, writes the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, with a person’s years. He quotes the Arizal — cited in the classic kabbalah sefer Kehillas Yaakov by Rav Yaakov Tzemach — who elucidates the concept of time kabbalistically.
When Hashem created a person’s neshama, He divided it into many divisions and subdivisions, thousands upon thousands of them. He then allocated to each spiritual morsel its own jurisdiction — what we know as time. Each morning, another slice of the neshama is given to the person to be refined through davening, Torah study, and mitzvos. Alternatively, it can be sullied if nothing worthy is accomplished under the reign of that particular segment.
By night, says Arizal, the person goes to sleep, and the part of neshama which represents that day flies up to Shomayim to join the rest of the neshama. Sleep, writes the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, is the ultimate deadline. Whatever happens until then can be rectified; afterward, it is much harder. There are similar “deadlines” for larger parts of the neshama, each Erev Shabbos, Erev Rosh Chodesh, and Yom Kippur.
The collective fusion of all these disparate segments into one soul defines life in its entirety. The more segments given to a person to fix, the greater number of days he has in his lifetime.
When a person is about to depart from this world, says the Arizal, all the varied parts of his soul come to him to escort him on his final journey. This is why the pasuk says, “The days of Yisroel approached to die” (Bereishis 47:29). All the days which Yaakov fixed and polished throughout his long life descended from their celestial abode to escort him on his final journey.
While the average person cannot distinguish this phenomenon, tzaddikim can. The Zohar (217b) tells of how Rabi Shimon bar Yochai was able to know that Rabi Yitzchak was about to pass away. Yaakov, too, realized the significance of this ingathering of his entire neshama; he saw that his end was near, and he, therefore, called Yosef in order to instruct him on burial procedures.
We find, the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh continues, that the ten generations from Adam to Noach experienced extraordinary longevity, with the average lifetime spanning over nine centuries. This was gradually reduced during the second ten generations until it settled on 120 years. Nowadays, even that is considered long, with the typical life standing at 70 to 80 years.
A short lifespan may appear to be something to lament. However, notes the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, if one looks at life as a compilation of thousands of days that must be fixed and worked on individually, the entire outlook is changed. While previous generations were given an extremely large amount of days to polish and work with — hundreds of thousands of them — the lightheartedness associated with youth and the lack of responsibility caused by the feeling that the person will not have to explain his actions to Hashem for many hundreds of years, joined together in a lethal combination. People squandered and tarnished their days, eventually causing Hashem to send a Mabul to destroy the earth.
The world then started over again with Noach, but this time Hashem, for man’s own good, reduced the number of days man must work on.
Sleep is the deadline to give in the daily work. The Apter Rav famously said that if Korach would have gone to sleep on that fateful night, then his neshama would certainly have been convinced to end his confrontation with Moshe Rabbeinu.
Life itself consists of no more than bits and pieces of time wrapped together in a gift box called Opportunity and Responsibility. Every day provides a person with the opportunity to accomplish extraordinary things with it, with the responsibility to rectify anything that goes foul of its goals. Tzaddikim are determined to make each day count, while others deal with each day as it comes. “Lousy day,” they might mutter when their mood is dark.
The Sifrei (Devarim 31) writes that “your heart shall not be separate from the Makom,” referring to Hashem. Rav Shlomo of Karlin understood this literally, that one shall not separate himself from his place and situation but work along with it. If life deals him with a specific circumstance, it is Hashem testing him, observing how he will deal with it.
There are some people, explains Rav Shlomo, who blame their circumstances for their level of observance. If they would’ve been placed in a different place or given different talents, they say, then their service to Hashem would have been much better. No, the rebbe emphasized. Hashem placed him there precisely because He desired his efforts from just that spot or situation.
Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan was one of the most prolific authors of the modern era. Aside for his famous Chofetz Chaim — by which he is universally known — he also authored the Mishnah Berura and dozens of other sefarim. The Mishna Berura, a commentary on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, is actually a compilation of dozens of sefarim, condensed and edited into an easy-to-read adaptation of the others. One can imagine the immense Torah library he owned.
However, from his writings it turns out that he really did not own much in the area of Jewish literature. He writes about peddlers passing by the hamlet in which he wrote with just the sefer that he needed at the time. He records instances of when he lacked a particular volume, and happened to come across it in a shul in a certain town.
He once explained his dearth of sefarim to an astounded visitor. In order to buy a sefer, he said, he first must earn the money, which takes time. “And time is life!” he exclaimed.
And time is every day at a time.
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