Blessings at Night and Morning

A song of ascents. Praiseworthy is each person who fears HASHEM, who walks in His paths. When you eat the labor of your hands, you are praiseworthy, and it is well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the inner chambers of your home; your children shall be like olive shoots surrounding your table. Behold! For so is blessed the man who fears HASHEM. May HASHEM bless you from Zion, and may you gaze upon the goodness of Jerusalem, all the days of your life. And may you see children born to children, peace upon Israel.

Tremble and sin not. Reflect in your hearts while on your beds, and be utterly silent. Selah.

Master of the universe. Who reigned before any form was created,
At the time when His will brought all into being —
then as “King” was His Name proclaimed.
After all has ceased to be, He, the Awesome One, will reign alone.
It is He Who was, He Who is, and He Who shall remain, in splendor.
He is One — there is no second to compare to Him, to declare as His equal.
Without beginning, without conclusion — His is the power and dominion.
He is my God, my living Redeemer, Rock of my pain in time of distress.
He is my banner, a refuge for me, the portion in my cup on the day I call.
Into His hand I shall entrust my spirit when I go to sleep — and I shall awaken!
With my spirit shall my body remain. HASHEM is with me, I shall not fear.

-Portion of the Bedtime Shema

My father said that the reciting of sh’ma before retiring at night (p. 118-124) is, in miniature form, like the Confession before death. But then one leaves the marketplace permanently, and the commerce of “Today to perform them” is finished. With the Bedside Sh’ma every night, however, one is still in the middle of the “market” and can still accomplish and achieve.

“Today’s Day”
Friday, Kislev 6, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

It is said in Jewish wisdom that one should repent one day before his death. But how can you know when the day of your death will come? You can’t. Therefore repent every day as if it is your last day of life.

I sometimes have bouts of insomnia for a variety of reasons. As I write this though, I slept very well last night. In fact, I recall that I was engaged in a rather compelling dream when the alarm went off, jarring me into consciousness.

But the night before, just prior to retiring, I recited the portion of the Bedtime Shema I quoted above. I can’t necessarily credit the Bedtime Shema with my restful sleep, but I suppose it didn’t hurt. On the other hand, you’d think, given recent events, that I’d have a lot on my mind.

And so I do, but that apparently didn’t disturb my sleep.

I also recite the Modeh Ani when I wake up in the morning. Even if I do not offer God any other prayers during the day, considering Him, even for a few moments as I end my day and again as I start the next one acts like “bookends,” with God on either side of my waking experience and me existing in the middle.

But what about the middle? That’s where we spend our lives or at least the conscious portion of them. It’s where we “feel” we’re alive, it’s where we are aware of being alive. What do we do with that time?

Lots of things. Many of us have jobs where we do our work and earn our pay. Sometimes our thoughts turn to God, but most of the time we are too distracted with our work to consciously consider Him. While a tzaddik, a righteous person, is constantly aware of God, most of us aren’t. Most of us struggle to remind ourselves of God, except at certain times such as when we need God or during a scheduled time of prayer or worship.

Fortunately, God doesn’t need anything to remind Him of us. One of the blessings He gave the Jewish people, and I wish Christianity would adopt such a practice, are set times for prayer. Muslims also have set times to turn away from their common activities and to turn toward God. We in the church tend to just “wing it,” which isn’t necessarily bad, because we should all be free to pray at any moment, but it isn’t necessarily good because we typically ignore God until something comes along to remind us of Him.

Imagine if we handled our human relationships that way. Imagine that we ignored our spouse, our children, our parents, until some external factor came along to remind us of their existence and that we needed something from them. I guess some of us do handle our human relationships that way. More’s the pity. But then, what is the state of those relationships? If you ignore someone long enough, they will eventually ignore you, too.

Pain, loneliness, fear, anxiety, the spectre of death all remind us of God and how much we need Him. While we shouldn’t wait for those reminders, being human, we often do. The troubles in our lives act as God’s messengers, coming to us and telling us we shouldn’t wait too much longer. Why wait for pain or fear to tell you that God is waiting for you?

And may Heaven help us all if even then, we still ignore God.

And if not now, then when? (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14).

Hillel’s famous statement is a bit enigmatic. The simple answer is, “Later.” Why can’t we take care of whatever it is some other time? Granted that procrastination is not a virtue, why does Hillel imply that if not now, then it will never be?

The Rabbi of Gur explained that if I do something later, it may indeed get done, but I will have missed the current “now.” The present “now” has but a momentary existence, and whether used or not, it will never return. Later will be a different “now.”

King Solomon dedicates seven famous verses of Ecclesiastes to his principle that everything has its specific time. His point comes across clearly: I can put off doing a good deed for someone until tomorrow, but will that deed, done exactly as I would have done it today, carry the same impact?

The wisdom that I learn at this moment belongs to this moment. The good deed that I do at this moment belongs to this moment. Of course I can do them later, but they will belong to the later moments. What I can do that belongs to this moment is only that which I do now.

Today I shall…

try to value each moment. I must realize that my mission is not only to get something done, but to get things done in their proper time, and the proper time may be now.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Kislev 14”

When I go to sleep — and I shall awaken! With my spirit shall my body remain. HASHEM is with me, I shall not fear.

God allows us to awaken at the proper time, feeds us when we are hungry, gives us rest when we are tired. He is waiting for us now to do something. Tomorrow is too late.

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