Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 6 February 2016 / 27 Shevat 5776

A Journey Beyond

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

“In Your hand I entrust my soul…”

It is the year 2016. Imagine you have been chosen for a daring and dangerous mission. Your destination is far away, further than the last galaxy. Beyond time and space. Are you afraid? This is actually a trip you have made before — a journey home. You are a soul, a part of the Divine above, and each night you return to Heaven from where you have come.

Although we do not fully “understand” the wondrous miracle of life, when we wake up each day ready to take on the world, or at least get the young ones to the school bus on time, we should be aware that something occurs each night that is beyond us. Our Sages explain, based on the verse, “In Your hand I entrust my soul; You redeemed me O G-d, L-rd of truth (Psalms 32:6),” that our soul is entrusted to G-d each night while we are asleep, and returned to us each morning. (Midrash Tehillim; Eicha Rabbah; Zohar Chadash)

Inasmuch as our soul leaves our bodies, we should no longer be living. So how do we remain alive each night without our soul? The truth is that it is a miracle. However, since this miracle happens every night, we tend to take it for granted. Still not convinced? Let me try to explain. Our Sages call “sleep” a “mini-death”. How mini? One-sixtieth, to be precise (Zohar 206). What does this mean? Fortunately for us our entire soul doesn’t leave the body, and that is how we remain alive. To help make us aware of all of this, it has become the custom of many to say the above-quoted verse as part of the “bedtime Shema” said before going to sleep. (Berachot 5a)

This “mini-death” also serves as a reminder that one day G-d will resurrect the dead from their sleep. In fact, we attest to this three times daily in the second blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei prayer. It is written there, “You are mighty forever, G-d; You resurrect the dead.” Later in the same blessing we even refer to the dead as “sleepers”. But why do we refer to the dead as sleepers? They are not just sleeping, they are dead. What is the connection between death and sleep? Our Sages explain that one day for G-d is like a thousand years for us (Ber. Rabbah 19:8). This is just an “idea”, for, in truth, G-d is above time. And so, whether it is only one day or it is six thousand years, it is all the same to Him — like an “afternoon nap”. And just as we wake up each morning, so too G-d will resurrect all those who are “asleep” (i.e., dead) in the end of days.

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