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Sleep On It

Sleep On It

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Most people who have a brain would agree that it is a most useful tool. But there is considerable disagreement as how and when to use it.

Some would say: "I use my intellect for the physical-material challenges of life: to run my business, write a resume, purchase a home, build a boat, program the VCR. These are the kinds of things for which reason and logic will serve as dependable guides. But when it comes to my inner, spiritual life — my religious convictions, my love for my family, my times for meditation and prayer — these cannot be rationalized or weighed with the scales of logic. These are areas in which I surrender to my subconscious, intuitive self."

Others take an opposite approach. "On the contrary," they say, "the spiritual side of life is where the mind's guidance is most necessary. Precisely because of its loftiness and subtlety, it is most vulnerable to corruption. Regarding my material endeavors, I can allow myself to operate on 'automatic pilot'; besides, they're not that important to me — if they don't work out exactly as they should, it's not the end of the world. But in my spiritual life, which is much more important to me, I want to get it right. There, I submit my every action, thought and feeling to the most precise measuring tool I've got — my intellect."

Who's right and who's wrong? According to a fascinating Midrash about Jacob's sleeping habits, both are wrong.


In the 28th chapter of Genesis, we read how Jacob, while journeying from the Holy Land to Charan, spends a night on Mount Moriah (the "Temple Mount"):

He encountered the place; he slept there, for the sun had set ... and he lay down in that place.

As our Sages repeatedly emphasize, the Torah does not contain a single extra word or letter. So what is the meaning of the seemingly superfluous line, "and he lay down in that place"? (The Torah already told us that "he slept there.") What message is hidden in these words?

Says the Midrash:

In that place he lay down, but for all of the fourteen years that he was hidden in the house of Eber he did not lie down... In that place he lay down, but for all of the twenty years that he was in Laban’s house, he did not lie down.

"That night", the night that Jacob spent at the holiest place on earth, was framed by the most intensely spiritual and the most intensely material periods of his life. For fourteen years prior to that night, Jacob was secluded in the home of his teacher Eber (Noah's great-great-grandson), devoting his every moment to the pursuit of the divine wisdom. For twenty years following that night, Jacob worked in the employ of his conniving uncle Laban, tending Laban's sheep and amassing a fortune of his own; by his own testimony, his devotion to the task was so absolute that "sleep escaped my eyes" (Genesis 31:40).

But during the one night that interposed between and joined these two periods, Jacob "lay down."


A person lying down positions his head and the rest of his body on the same plane. By doing so, he surrenders the most important advantage that a human has over all other animals — the fact that, in the human being, the head is positioned above the body.

Because, as the Chassidic masters teach, man's upright stature is much more than a feature of his physical anatomy. Rather, it reflects a deeper truth: that in the human being, the mind rules the heart, the head is master of the physical self. This, writes Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his Tanya, is man's "inborn nature." A person who allows himself to be ruled by his emotions or instincts is a person who has renounced the most important feature of his humanity, the most important priority of man over beast.

This, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is the deeper significance of the Midrash's statement that Jacob did not "lie down" during his 14 years in the house of Eber, nor during his 20 years in Laban's employ. Jacob is telling us that the "mind rules the heart" rule applies to all areas of life, from the most spiritual endeavor to the most material occupation.

All areas of life, that is, except when you're on Mount Moriah.


Because there is also a higher truth. A truth that transcends physicality and spirituality; a truth surpasses both intellect and instinct.

G‑d is neither spiritual nor physical. He created both realms, and is equally present in both. He provided us avenues of connection to His higher truth in both venues: prayer, for example, is a spiritual venue of connection to G‑d, while giving charity is a physical pathway. And He provided us with a guide — our rational mind — with which to navigate both areas of life.

But we also need to be connected to the higher divine truth that transcends spirit and matter. Indeed, it is only because of this connection that we can inhabit two such diverse worlds and even incorporate them both into our lives.

That's why Jacob had to spend a night on Mount Moriah, site of the Holy Temple, the place of G‑d’s deepest self-revelation to man and man's ultimate commitment in his service of G‑d: the place where the elemental divine truth is manifest. Only an encounter with with Mount Moriah can bridge our "Eber years" and our "Laban years". Only an encounter with Mount Moriah can place our spiritual endeavors and our material pursuits in the same life, cause them to dwell harmoniously with each other and even feed and nourish each other, and impose the same standards of integrity on both.

But on Mount Moriah there are no rules and no tools. You cannot grasp or apprehend, you cannot rationalize or experience. You can only surrender to it. You can only lie down.

Our Mount Moriah moments are extremely rare. For Jacob, a single night was enough for 34 years. What's important is not how often they come or how long they last, but that their influence should pervade everything we do.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
Illustrations by Chassidic artist Michoel Muchnik.
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Tzvi Hirsh Dubinsky Boston, Ma August 9, 2011

Very nicely put. I like the way you took the Remez of "lying Down" to a whole new level! Reply

Sarah Z Israel November 24, 2009

Totally awesome Thank you so much again for your clarity in bringing such "far out" concepts so beautifully down to earth. Blessings for continued strength and good health to keep doing what you do so well. Reply

rob Amsterdam, The Netherlands August 4, 2006

Beautifully put! Thank you Reply

zalman l. Brooklyn, NY November 16, 2004

sleepless night Why did G-D perform such a miracle that Yaakov should be able to stay awake for so many years?! (if it's lack of sleep in a physical sense). Reply

Yoni Katzir L.A., CA August 26, 2004

Yanki Tauber has taken such an elusive idea, and has transcribed it in such a crystal clear manner. A+. Reply