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Why Say Shema at Bedtime?

Why Say Shema at Bedtime?

Didn't we just say it in Maariv?

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There is a mitzvah in the Torah—indeed, in the very text of the Shema itself—to recite the Shema twice daily: “And you shall speak of them . . . when you lie down and when you rise up.”1 The sages explain that this means we are to recite the Shema every morning and evening.2

Now, Shema is included in the morning and evening service. Yet the Talmud states that before one goes to sleep, he should recite the Shema, as well as Hamapil.3 Hamapil is both a blessing and a prayer, in which we acknowledge that G‑d has made us slaves to sleep, and we pray to Him to help us have only good thoughts in our sleep and to awake in the morning. (This blessing can be found in any standard prayerbook as part of the bedtime Shema).

Now, since the Shema is also a standard component of the nighttime Maariv prayer services, what is the purpose of repeating it again?

Proper Frame of Mind

The Talmud explains that one should recite Shema before going to sleep, so as to go to sleep with words of Torah on his lips.4 This is learned from the verse in Psalms, “Quake and do not sin; say [this] in your heart on your bed and be forever silent.”5

Protection

Additionally, the recitation of the Hamapil after the bedtime Shema serves as a protection from evil thoughts and impure forces (both physical and spiritual) during the night.6

Sleep is described in the Talmud as one-sixtieth of death.7 The absence of life creates a vacuum which draws in forces of impurity and unwanted thoughts. Shema provides us with extra spiritual vitality to overcome this.

Early Maariv prayer

Some congregations have the custom to hold the evening prayers early, after sunset but before nightfall (or even earlier on Fridays). While this is permissible and they have fulfilled their obligation vis-a-vis evening prayer, they did not yet fulfil their obligation to recite Shema at night, since it needs to be said after nightfall proper.

Thus, saying Shema at bedtime has an unintended dividend. Those who pray in these congregations can have in mind during the bedtime Shema to fulfill their obligation to recite the evening Shema8 (provided that they say all three sections of the Shema9).

Additions to the Bedtime Shema

The Talmud relates that the sage Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, in addition to reciting the Shema, would recite Psalm 91 as protection before he went to sleep.10 Following this, many have the custom of reciting this psalm, as well as various other verses, together with the bedtime Shema. (These prayers can be found in most standard prayerbooks.)

Additionally, many have the custom to add formulas in which we forgive all those who may have wronged us and ask G‑d to forgive us for our sins. For more on this, see Bedtime Countdown.

Finally, the way one goes to sleep is the way he or she wakes up in the morning. So if you go to sleep with the Shema, you’ll be able to wake up reinvigorated to start a productive, meaningful and spiritual day.

Footnotes
1.
Deutronomy 6:7.
2.
Talmud, Berachot 11a.
3.
Talmud, Berachot 60b.
4.
See Talmud, Berachot 4b.
6.
See Talmud Berachot 4b, 60b and Shavuot 15b.
7.
Talmud, Berachot 57b.
8.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 239 and Magen Avraham and Mishnah Berurah ad loc.
9.
This is found in the standard Chabad siddur. Others, however, generally just say a truncated Shema and would need to take care to say all three paragraphs in this instance.
10.
Talmud, Shavuot 15b.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Eva Trieger San Diego November 28, 2017

Can you really find nothing in your life to be grateful for? Do you see/feel Hashem's presence in your life at all? I am constantly reminded by all sorts of things. Finding my keys, remembering a password etc. Each of these small things I believe are gifts from HaShem. I do awake grateful to have a new day to find opportunities to be a worthy human, and I hope you will too.
B'ahava,
Chava Reply

Anonymous Forest Hills June 6, 2017

I always say it. I have never woken up and been reinvigorated to start a productive, meaningful and spiritual day. Perhaps it is time to quit. Reply

Janice Thoman Louisville June 20, 2017

What are the words to the shema? Reply

Chabad.org Staff June 22, 2017
in response to Janice Thoman:

You can find the text of the Shema at this link Reply

Pat Weler Grand Rapids June 8, 2017

To say Shema at night before bedtime. You thank G-d for the day He has given you, whether good or trying. Feeling G-d listens, lessens the burdens of the night and perhaps the morning to be. Reply

Anonymous Long Island June 7, 2017

She a Yisrael I say respectfully, the most important reason for saying the Shema as directed is to fulfill the very purpose of life. Is it not?

What higher purpose can there be than to bring into the world children, and then to teach ones children how to achieve a meaningful,purposeful, and joyful life. This is the role of a parent, this is the main purpose of life, and I believe the thoughts behind the Shema Yisrael Reply

Darrell "Monkeyrey" : ) June 7, 2017

Thanks for the reminder. I sleep outdoors. So, prayers before falling asleep have become more important than ever before. Thanks God for His angels. Reply

Anonymous June 14, 2017
in response to Darrell:

Hi Darrell

Just Wondering why you sleep outdoors? Do you have a home?
Please let us know if we can help in anyway! Good Luck! Reply

Anonymous Israel June 7, 2017

BH
Just today I was reminding my son why we say the Shema and then I came upon this article which by the way said what I wanted to say.
Life is full of Hashem incidence and this is one of them
My prayer is that both my daughter and son find their Jewish soul mate
Soon Reply

inge reisinger germany June 7, 2017

Thank you, all prayers are found of strong spiritual experience so it is easy to pray. I like the Psalms in the morning they show in a short way the whole story and life of Jewish history. Reply

Eva Trieger San Diego June 7, 2017

When I became orphaned after the death of my father, I, for the first time as an adult, read the bedtime Shema, and I wept. Not out of sadness, but because I felt so loved, supported and secure. I continued to read it nightly for a time, but fell out of the habit as work and life took over. Thank you for this article. I will re-read the bedtime Shema tonight and make it a ritual. Lila tov. Reply

Dar Hosanna Crown heights Brooklyn August 8, 2017
in response to Eva Trieger:

Shema I felt that. G-D bless and I am making it a ritual. Reply

Anonymous 92672 June 7, 2017

I just made a hachloto to say Krias shema by bedtime.
Good timing for a great article Reply

howard JOFFE Cape Town June 6, 2017

The Shemah is our most important prayer...We say it with total concentration and with dedication. Some may miss the Maariv Shemah because of not going to shul at the end of the day due to pressure of work. We complete our day by saying it in bed before or after turning off the lights to refresh ourselves with sleep Reply

Charlie Richman June 6, 2017

The Shema is central to our life and the life of children. We are asking all of us to hear the voice and messages of Hashem. And, and that our obligation does not stop there; we are instructed to teach our children about Hashem no matter where we are our or our circumstances we are instructed to learn and to teach our children about the magnificence of Hashem thru Torah study and prayer. Thus, we are reminded to speak of Hashem when we sit in our homes, leave our homes, lie down, and rise up. We have the sacred obligation to place a Mezuzah on our doorposts and on our gates. Our mezuzah serves to identify and to remind ourselves that we are Jews and serves as a constant reminder that our only king is Hashem. Reply

Anonymous Hamilton June 6, 2017

The article was eye opening, I have never thought about ending the day with the right frame of mind. It was just a time to switch off.
We often honor the beginning of the day and forget to do the same to the rest of the day. Thank you - it was very timely. Reply

Mike Morristown, NJ June 6, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I'm not Jewish and I don'y know much about Jewish prayer life, but I remember someone saying that in the morning you discuss with the Almighty your plans for the day and ask his aid, then at the end of the day you report back. Think of the self-improvement we'd see if everyone did that! Over time it would change the world. Reply

Simcha Arona Liss Cleveland June 6, 2017

Why does the "Bedtime Shema" only have the 1st paragraph of the Shema? Reply

Boruch Skokie June 8, 2017
in response to Simcha Arona Liss:

I read all three as it's in my Siddur Reply

David Los Angeles June 6, 2017

Bedtime Sh'ma A psychiatrist friend remarked that bedtime Sh'ma alleviates the anxieties of the day and helps one get to sleep. Reply

Anonymous London June 6, 2017

We are not slaves to sleep as the writer suggests. Rather it is a time for the human body to rest and repair itself as ordained by our Maker. If you read Genesis The Lord God communicates to man during sleep. Abraham dreamt and God spoke to him about his descendants going into slavery but they will come out. In Deutronomy God warns Israel about dreamers. Go check it out. No where does it state that it is a form of slavery. Hence eating would also be classed as slavery. Reply

Russell Fig Massachusetts June 6, 2017

Do you need a Minion to recite the Shema? Reply

Sarah Seattle June 6, 2017
in response to Russell Fig:

If someone is saying the Shema without a minyan, Chabad custom is for the individual to repeat the words "ani Adonai Eloheichem.

Can't post links. Search for "Laws of Reciting the Shema (Part II)" on this site. It's in that article. Reply

Juda June 9, 2017
in response to Russell Fig:

The Shema recited before going to sleep is a personal prayer and is not recited with a Minyan of ten people. Reply

Gershon Goldsteen Launceston, Tasmania, Australia June 9, 2017
in response to Sarah:

Re: Shema Gershon

This is for Sarah: We do not repeat "ani Ad-nay Elokechem": Because that would mean that you are saying that you are G-d. We repeat Ad-nay Elokechem Emet.... Reply

Russell Fig Boston Massachusetts June 14, 2017
in response to Sarah:

Thankyou Sara Reply

Russell Fig Boston Massachusetts USA June 14, 2017
in response to Juda:

Thankyou Gershon. Reply

Gershon Goldsteen Launceston, Tasmania, Australia June 22, 2017
in response to Russell Fig:

Correspondents to this discussion about the Sh'ma only speak of the Sh'ma at bed time. To be sure we say the entire Sh'ma in the morning during the Shacharith service and at night during the Ma'ariv service, whether you are with a minyan or not. With a minyan the last three words of the third part are repeated by the Chazan (Cantor), not by the individual. However when davening by yourself (or less than ten men present) you repeat those words yourself as I said in my previous response, i.e. Ad-nay Elokechem Emet. The bed time Sh'ma also uses the three sections in the Chabad Siddur, so the same as the day time Sh'ma, However the ArtScroll siddur according to the Sefardic nusach only uses the first section. In my pre-2nd World War German siddur, no doubt with Ashkenaz nusach, also uses only the first section of the bed time Sh'ma. So it appears the minhag (tradition) depends on your community. Reply

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