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Prepare for Takeoff

Prepare for Takeoff

How to go to sleep to be awake


Skill testing question:

Which of these two will be better able to focus on tefillah,
and thereby have a great day:




Retiring to bed

Falls asleep watching a rerun of Brain Dead while washing down pizza with cola on the couch.

Mentally reviews the day, says the Shema Yisrael, falls asleep in bed reading Baal Shem Tov stories.

Waking up

Rudely awakened by e-mail alert. Checks more e-mail and stock report before falling back asleep. Repeats until resigning himself to getting off the couch.

Wakes up by circadian rhythm. Says Modeh Ani as approaching consciousness. Smiles when recalling Baal Shem Tov dreams.

Washing up

Jumps off the couch in frenzied panic. Grabs mug, car keys and cellphone charger. Runs frantically to the car.

Gently slides out of bed to greet the sunrise. Washes, takes care of bodily necessities and gets dressed. Washes hands and says morning blessings.


Stumbles into Starbucks on the way to shul to grab a hyper-caffeinated brew. Gets into a yelling match with the attendant over the bill / change / brew / temperature / politics / whatever.

Sips a hot drink while engaged in a half-hour Tanya class with the rabbi.


Listens to news and traffic report on car radio while sipping coffee, texting clients and hurling imprecations at fellow drivers.

Sits quietly, pondering the morning lesson. Visualizes the continuous act of creation unfolding about us.


Takes care of some business decisions by cellphone while the minyan “warms up.” Jumps in late but catches up in no time. Sticks around to chat, then runs out in yet another mad rush.

Phone is on buzz. Starts with the minyan, saying each word out loud. Ignores the buzzes.

Where Is Your Launching Pad?

In the last installment, we spoke about the order of prayer as a four-runged ladder. We know where the top of our ladder leans: on a state of awe, joy and reverence, a place where a sharing of innermost desire with the Infinite can occur. Simple enough. Now, where do we plant the bottom of the ladder? In other words, what are the first humble steps that lead to the ultimate high? Where is our launching pad and what does it look like?

Well, here it is:

Why a bed? Because everything that happens during your today relies on two crucial factors: how you get into that bed, and how you get out of it.

When you open your eyes and get out of that bed, you are making your grand entry onto the stage of life. If you stumble out into the bright lights, not really sure whether you are still dreaming or whether this is really real, what lines are supposed to come next or what on earth you are doing here, you’ve bombed before you’ve started. Like an actor, you want to spend those precious, backstage moments priming yourself, getting into character, immersing yourself in the sum total of everything that will come next.

Problem is, you’re entering your stage out of an unconscious state known as sleep—not a conducive posture for deliberate preparation. Your only choice, then, is to do the pre-stage warmup before you retire. Most significantly, the last hour before bed, and especially the last five minutes.Wherever you put your head at night, that’s where you’ll find it in the morning Wherever you put your head in those precious moments is where you’re going to find it when you wake up.

The Caesar once summoned Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanina, and said, “They say that you are very wise. Tell me what I will see in my dreams tonight!”

The rabbi said to him, “You will see that the Persians will enslave and plunder your kingdom. They will carry you off to their land in chains of gold!”

The Caesar thought about this the entire day, and at night that is what he dreamt.

King Shavor of Persia once summoned Shmuel—a wise rabbi who lived in Mesopotamia—and said, “They say you are very wise. Tell me what I will dream tonight!”

Shmuel replied, “You will see that the Romans come and they will take you captive. They will make you grind date pits in a golden mill.”

The king thought about this the entire day, and at night that is what he dreamt.1

Aiming For Wakefulness

Where do you want your head to be when you wake up? Basically, you want it to be clear. You want it to be actually awake.

King David said, “I will wake the morning”—not that the morning woke him, but he woke the morning. Meaning that he was the proactive party who decided it was morning, rather than the morning dictating to him that he must be awake. You see, if you are only awake because it is morning, you are not really awake—you are sleepwalking. If it is morning because you are awake, however, then you are awake and in control.

Most people, you see, are not awake. They are simply not asleep. Not asleep is not the same as being awake. If you’re not awake, you’re not holding the steering wheel. You’re not driving your world, your world is driving you. When you’re awake, you have direction, purpose and meaning. When you’re awake, there’s an awareness, a knowledge that you are here, a character playing his part in a world much bigger than yourself that you did not make. When you’re awake, in all that you do, you are aware that the Director/Producer of this drama is taking an intense interest in how you play out your part—and you act accordingly. And you find yourself speaking to Him, as well—in other words, you find you can pray.

The question then is, how do you go to sleep in order to be awake?

Hang in there. List coming up in next installment.

Talmud, Berachot 56a.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Pinchas Malaysia. March 12, 2014

please where do I put my head while sleeping at night, I mean what side should my head-bed be? is'it towards the East, West, North or South? Reply

Jim Gaus Milton, FL July 2, 2013

I read the chart and have come to the conclusion that I'm a Goldstein-Goldberg crossbreed! Which side is most dominate depends on the day. Your article is a springboard - a launchpad - in itself in focusing my relationship - my communion with G-d. Reply

shay brooklyn, ny May 25, 2011

kol hakavod! NICE! The truth level of this is incredible...I always find myself being in the same state of emotions when i wake up as the night before, (and so i meditate on the good the good parts of my past day before going to sleep).
Many thanks Rabbi! Reply

Anonymous seabrook, tx/usa May 25, 2011

Launching Pad? Thanks for a mavelous article. It reminds me of the mezuzah on my entrance doorpost. On coming home, it reminds me that I am leaving one world and entering another. That I must enter and realize I have another that has not experienced my day, good or bad, and that I need to enter my home with a right attitude and frame of mind. Like the Modeh Ani in the morning to launch my day.
When I leave my house, the same mezuzah reminds me that I have a responsibility to the world and to my G-d. That responsibility , if nothing else, is to bring my joy to it. Whatever the case, the remembering brings me into a better frame of mind to meet whatever will be coming my way. Reply

Morris Abadi (Sao Paulo - Brasil) Sao Paulo, BR May 25, 2011

TakeOff Excellent !
Chazak u Baruc.h!

Every student should read, comment, learn and do it. Reply

Cas N Hava London, Israel via March 26, 2011

This is a loaded question... It is as if you are comparing a man meditating to another who sits with alarm bells in his ears. which state of mind is more conducive to prayer? It is a complete exaggeration, not taking into account that most people would fall into the non-documented middle category. It's not always possible to wake according to one's circadian rhythm (unless you use that new windows mobile app).
Just because you fall asleep to the Baal Shem Tov doesn't mean you don't have crazy dreams. The extremes documented above are too exaggerated and unrealistic - applying to a minority of hyper-stressed people. Goldberg doesn't even seem to have a job - thereby reducing his stress levels. Reply

Mr. john smith March 24, 2011

i like this i try and do this everyday if possible. sometimes i am thrown off due to mis scheduling but there is no reason to start the day ignoring G-d, it makes no sense if you really think about it. i am still working on a night schedule. i think i think too much and by the end of the day it is harder to focus but i will continue to try to stop thinking mudane thoughts. i have even tried every thought all day sometimes but is almost impossible and life and surroundings prevail always. Reply

Anonymous March 20, 2011

let me guess You plant the ladder on launch pad Modeh Ani upon awakening.

That part seems feasible.

The question about how to go to sleep in order to be awake is a good one.

It is too tricky for me. It sounds from the article that the night Shema from Maariv would be feasible. It would be the thought upon going to sleep. It could include the Shemoneh Esrei, or the whole Ma'ariv for that matter. Or further, the three portions, Shachrit, Mincha, Ma'ariv and all thoughts associated with them. And then there is Torah study and mitzvot. Those would seem give some wonderful dreams in a peaceful sleep. If your day involves thinking on the presence of G-d, that would be what you dream.

i can hardly wait to see what your answer list looks like. Taking pot shots at the answers is my way of staying involved with the subject matter, the prayer ladder. And that can't be bad. It's keeping me properly awake, i hope.

Fantastic article. Fantastic series. Reply

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