I had a babysitter when I was a young boy who used to tell me fascinating stories about a thousand-year-old man. Every time he went to sleep, he woke up a thousand years later to a changed world!
Today, we’re all exhausted from a whirlwind of activity starting from the early Selichos before Rosh Hashanah, all the Yomim Noraim and then Sukkos. We’re catching up on mail, getting back to work, cleaning up, taking down the sukkah and planning for the coming Shabbos. I feel like I need one of those thousand-year slumbers to feel refreshed!
In Parshas Bereishis, Adam Harishon went to sleep, but (representing all mankind) “slept” much longer than a thousand years, as we will explain. The pasuk says Hashem put Adam to sleep—“tardeima.” The Ibn Ezra explains that there are three levels of sleep: tenuma—dozing, sheina—regular sleep and tardeima—a deep slumber. Rav Shimon Schwab notes that the Torah never says that Adam woke up. What does that mean? Clearly Adam physically awoke; this was his first day alive.
Rav Schwab explains with an insight on the last of the initial morning blessings—thanking Hashem for removing sleep from our eyelids. I can really relate to that bracha. At the end of each day, I’m struggling to keep my eyes open. And then the morning arrives—my tiredness is gone and I’m up for the day with eyes wide open. But why is this the last of the morning brachos? The other blessings thank Hashem for the ability to see, stand, walk, for the clothes we wear. Truly, we need to first open our eyes to appreciate all that. Shouldn’t our blessing to remove sleep from our eyes be the first bracha, not the last?
The paragraph of Yehi Ratzon immediately following this bracha is really a continuation of the bracha. In Yehi Ratzon we ask Hashem to accustom us to Torah and connect us to mitzvos. What is the connection of Torah learning and mitzvos to removing slumber?
The Yehi Ratzon concludes with the blessing that Hashem showers kindness on klal Yisrael. But the gift of feeling refreshed upon waking in the morning is universal for all people. In what way is it unique to klal Yisrael?
Rav Schwab presents a novel approach: The blessing of removing sleep from our eyes is not referring to physical slumber. Indeed, that’s included in a prior bracha, which states Hashem gives strength and vigor to those who are tired. The last blessing regarding Hashem awakening us from a state of slumber is actually referring to spiritual slumber.
Hashem made Adam fall into a slumber from his spiritual mission, from which he never fully awoke. Hashem wanted Adam to be a little unclear on his role and purpose in this world. Hashem did this to enable Adam and all mankind to have free will. Absolute spiritual clarity would have prevented Adam (and us) from making a real choice to do what is right. To this very day, man’s lack of spiritual clarity causes him to struggle between right and wrong.
That is why we mention Torah and mitzvos in the Yehi Ratzon, because they help us to wake up!
The world at large is walking in a stupor and doesn’t realize their spiritual mission. Hashem gifted klal Yisrael with a special gift that can wake us up. The Torah and its mitzvos serve to provide us with a clear insight on our purpose and mission in this world. The Torah is our spiritual catalyst!
We all have our little tricks and routines to wake us up physically. For many, it’s a cup of coffee, as much as three times a day. That’s our physical pick-me-up. But combine each cup of coffee with some Torah learning and you will get a spiritual pick-me-up as well!
Simchas Torah was different this year due to the COVID pandemic. The dancing was lively, but different. Some might feel they lost out on an authentic Simchas Torah. The Shem Mishmuel quotes the Kotzker Rebbe saying that simcha is the feeling of excitement when we start a new project or a new mission. The pasuk says “S’mach zvulun b’tzeitcha…”—Zevulun should be excited when embarking on a new business venture. Simchas Torah is about rejoicing not only for spiritual accomplishments in the past year, but also about excitement for the new spiritual projects ahead.
Now is the time to undertake a new project in learning Torah. We can all experience a true Simchas Torah by setting out on a new Torah venture or restarting a paused venture of Torah learning. This will help ensure that on a daily basis we are wide awake to fulfill our true purpose in this world.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.