July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

It is 3:00 a.m. I am never up at this hour. I need set sleep and get very tired when I don’t get it.

And it’s not that I’m not tired. I was up all night learning on Hoshana Rabba and then up again very late dancing on Simchat Torah the next night.

The day of Simchat Torah was even more exhausting. The regular activities, combined with the sirens and caring for nervous talmidim, added to my fatigue. I ended the chag totally exhausted and eager to rest—but I was unable to sleep.

Today, three days later, I still haven’t slept. I have been working around the clock, harder than I ever have before. I am doing my best to keep up with the thousands of requests I am receiving. For the first time in my life, I’m just not able to respond to messages right away. I simply can’t keep up. I feel more physically and mentally spent than I can ever remember—but I cannot sleep.

It is not that I don’t want to or that I don’t force myself to make time to. Sleep just won’t come. I lie in bed and even shut my eyes, but what’s supposed to happen next just doesn’t.

Desperate, I took a sleeping pill 30 minutes ago. On flights, they knock me right out. But still, nothing. What’s wrong with me?

Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I point out to myself that I need to sleep in order to have the strength to do what needs to be done the next day. I have tried that argument. I tell myself that I need to sleep in order to take care of my family, my talmidim in yeshiva, my children and talmidim in the army, and the communities I assist around the world.

It is not working. I have never experienced this. I have lived through a lot, but I have never been unable to sleep.

My wife can’t sleep either. We lie next to each other, checking if the other is still up. She has also been working harder than ever. Two of our married sons are on the front lines. Their families are in our house. This is on top of her regular intensive schedule, giving additional chizuk shiurim, and trying to help the hundreds turning to her for assistance and chizuk.

But I understand why I can’t sleep.

How can I sleep when so many of my people are in such terrible pain?

How can I sleep when 100 brothers and sisters are in captivity, being tortured in unspeakable ways?

How can I sleep when I know that my children are on the front lines and their lives are in imminent danger? How can I sleep when they cannot?

How can I sleep when I know that the children of hundreds of thousands of my people wait to put their lives on the line, trying to shove the terrible fear out of their heads?

How can I sleep when, for the first time in years, I needed to make sure the doors of my house were locked and think about whether to prepare our home’s bomb shelter for the first time in 25 years?

There is nothing wrong with me. There is something wrong with all of us. Our lives have become abnormal. In such circumstances, insomnia is completely normal. I need to be unable to sleep. Being able to sleep would be a sign that I missed my wake-up call.

I need to feel the pain. I need to cry “eicha” and ask how this could be. How could a country with such a strong army be taken totally by surprise by a motley crew of terrorists? How can human beings act towards others in such ways? How can the videos we see, the news we hear, be true?

This is what needs to be done, and now: I need to figure out what is wrong with me. We need to figure out what is wrong with us (on a spiritual level). Once we know, we can begin to repair it:

וְדָבָר זֶה מִדַּרְכֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה הוּא. שֶׁבִּזְמַן שֶׁתָּבוֹא צָרָה וְיִזְעֲקוּ עָלֶיהָ וְיָרִיעוּ יֵדְעוּ הַכּל שֶׁבִּגְלַל מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם הָרָעִים הוּרַע לָהֶן כַּכָּתוּב (ירמיה ה כה) “עֲוֹנוֹתֵיכֶם הִטּוּ” וְגוֹ’. וְזֶה הוּא שֶׁיִּגְרֹם לָהֶם לְהָסִיר הַצָּרָה מֵעֲלֵיהֶם:

How can I sleep when I have such urgent work to do?

I hope that until this war is over, I continue to be unable to sleep. May none of us, in Israel or overseas, with children on the front lines or not, be able to sleep. Not until each of our brothers and sisters is released from captivity, not until every soldier returns home and can sleep in his own bed (or even just a bed—many of the soldiers lack mattresses to sleep on at this point). Not until every parent and spouse can sleep as well.

Maybe if we are up long enough, we will realize that we have been sleeping until now—and we will finally wake up. When we do, we hope that He (k’vayachol) will too:

הנה לא ינום ולא יישן שומר ישראל…ה’ צלך על יד ימינך

Rabbi Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat HaKotel.


1 Rambam, Hilchot Taaniyot 1:2.

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