Jeffrey Kobrin
Looking to the Parasha to Inspire Our Parenting

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

What I wouldn’t give for a good night’s sleep.  An informal poll told me that many of my friends feel the same: it’s hard to sleep these days.  

This week’s parasha of Vayetze is the parasha of good sleep: in the first few pesukim, Yaakov, on the run from his brother and on a quest for a wife, slept deeply, and dreamt of the ladder of angels.  Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, in his Oznayim LaTorah, reminds us that Yaakov was not known for being a sleeper: the Midrash reports that he did not sleep during his fourteen-year sojourn in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever or during his twenty-odd years working for his father-in-law Lavan.  (Indeed, at the start of next week’s parasha, Yaakov also couldn’t sleep as he nervously waited to reunite with Esav.)  So why was he now able to sleep during this difficult, terrifying night on the run?

The New York Times this week gives Six Steps to a Great Thanksgiving Nap, which advises us not only to avoid caffeine, but not to nap too late in the day, lest we are unable to sleep that night.  Yaakov apparently took that advice: for once in his life, he slept well.  Rabbi Sorotzkin writes that Hashem wanted Yaakov to sleep well so He could comfort Yaakov and assure him that he would be protected.  The image of the angels and the ladder would be much more effective than simply telling Yaakov these things.  Seeing (or dreaming) is believing.  We should all have such good sleep and such good dreams.

But there’s more: the Talmud in  Berachot famously teaches us that each of the three avot established one of the three daily tefilot.  Yaakov invented arvit, the night prayer.  Rabbi Sorotzkin writes that Avraham invented the morning prayer of shacharit at a time of hopeful joy, after learning that Yitzchak would be born; and Yitzchak created mincha when he excitedly returned from the field to meet Rivka, his new wife.  But Yaakov thought up arvit during a dark time of panic and dread, on the run from his murderous brother.  

When I was nine or ten, my father spent weeks standing outside my door each night while I was afraid to go to sleep on my own.  I could only fall asleep knowing he was there — and I have never forgotten those precious hours of parenting time that he gave me.  Yaakov teaches us that even when it’s dark and scary, we can pray, and Hashem will hear us.   And Yaakov’s dream at a fearful moment tells us that Hashem is standing outside our door right now, making sure that we can sleep.  Hamlet may fear “what dreams may come,” but we need not have such fears.  

Thanksgiving, however different this year, should remind us of Hashem’s protection and His generosity.  The message to our families is that we should feel confident in that protection.  That doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want: we have to be careful and do our part to stay safe and healthy.  But we should know that Hashem is always there, whether at the top of the ladder or right outside the door.

Sleep well, and sweet dreams.

Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Jeffrey Kobrin is the Rosh HaYeshiva/Head of School at the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, New York. He has bachelors and masters degrees in English literature from Columbia University, semikha from RIETS at Yeshiva University, and a PhD in English education from Columbia University’s Teachers College. He lives in Riverdale, New York, with his wife, Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, and their four daughters.
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