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The Kabbalah of Sleep

The Kabbalah of Sleep

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''Giraffe Dreaming'' by David Brook
"Giraffe Dreaming" by David Brook

Question:

I would like to know how sleep is understood from a Chassidic view. What happens with the soul and consciousness during sleep?

Answer:

This is indeed a fascinating topic! Here are a few concepts regarding sleep from Chasidic sources:

  • When discussing sleep, there are always two sides of the coin: the body and the soul. For the body's perspective, the Talmud refers to sleep as 1/60th of death -- and for good reason. Our eyes are closed. Conscious powers become weakened, and we lose control of many of our faculties. Yet, for the soul, it is a time of rejuvenation. It is united with its Source above and spiritually refreshed and recharged.

  • This "siluk hakochot" (departure of faculties) only affects the conscious dimensions of our psyche. But in the absence of the conscious, the subconscious emerges. Thus, according to the Kabbalah, the soul's essential powers are in fact strengthened and more apparent while one is asleep.

  • Even amongst our conscious faculties, many of them are still very much present during sleep, but the hierarchy which normally governs them is absent. The mind no longer controls the heart, and we no longer think before we speak or act. This is because all our powers are elevated to the way they exist – in a united state, in potential – within the essence of our soul. And in this "embryonic state," there is no above or below, earlier or later.

  • Based on all the above, the Kabbala often refers to the state of galut (exile) as sleep. During exile, our eyes are closed from seeing G‑dliness. Our spiritual senses, which allow us to understand Torah, appreciate a miracle, and love and fear G‑d, are greatly weakened. Our priorities are confused as we often have difficulty realizing the true purpose of life.

    However, it is specifically during exile that the essential power of a Jew is revealed. When times are tough, the soul's overdrive is activated. She believes despite not understanding. She continues to serve G‑d despite feeling no inspiration. And it is in the merit of this mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) that our eyes will open and we will regain our spiritual abilities with the coming of Moshiach

More on sleep in the following articles: Why Do we Sleep?, On Sleep and Dreams and The Philosophy of Sleep

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar is a Chabad rabbi in Cary, North Carolina. He is also a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations. To view or purchase David’s art, please visit davidasherbrook.com.
© 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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Jay Fulton February 6, 2016

In my reading of the Exodus starting with Israel's enslavement to the ten commandments I realized for the first time that all events must have been extremely stressful, to say the least. According to commentaries, Israelites died during the plaque of darkness, seemingly like the tenth plague for the Egyptians. Then Israel was released only to be confronted by Egypt at the Red Sea. After that they ran low on water and arrived at a lake that was poisonous (solved by a healing tree falling into it), then the bread ran out (solved by the miracle of manna), then after having to leave the Red Sea shore they ran out of water (solved by a portable rock that spewed water). The giving of the ten commandments was so stressful that, according to commentators, the Israelites could not stand to hear the Almighty give commandments after the second one (solved by Moses expounding the rest). In my dream, the Egyptians released us long before the plagues without condition and I felt great relief. Reply

anonymous March 3, 2013

a persons dream expresses the thoughts and actions he did during that day. if a Jew maximized his time properly in matters of goodness and holiness, his soul goes to paradise. Reply

FERNANDO Banjul, Gambia February 27, 2010

Great article on a very fabulously controversial issue here by our learned Rabbi, Yisroel Cotlar.
I also like the comments of people below especially from the anonymous "SLEEP". Thank you so much and may G-d bless you with greater inspiration as you labour in his vine yard. Reply

dolores los angeles, CA November 18, 2009

I had always felt that during the dream state I am more aware of my "inner self" which my waking mind might overlook or my faults I deny in my wakefulness, through dream imagery. I had heard somewhere that the dream state is when the soul travels to be instructed or reminded of it's true self. It can be a time of refreshing spiritual repose, as your article suggests, or it can be a time of learning and correction, perhaps gentle discipline. I wonder if this is the time where we are most open to instruction from G-d, because our souls are totally free from worldly distractions? Reply

Anonymous hou, tx usa via chabadtexas.org August 5, 2008

Doesn't the idea that our soul is rejuvenated during sleep emphasize our obligation to sleep for our spiritual health. How does one induce it or allow for more sleep with all the mitzvot we're to do with other obligations of work, family, prayer schedules, ect? Thanks for this subject. Reply

Eric Sander Kingston North Hollywood, ca July 18, 2008

Sleep and the Ari
"Every night his soul ascended to heaven. Angels would escort him, asking which academy he chose to visit. Sometimes it would be that of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He also visited the academies of Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Eliezer the Great, and on occasion the academies of the ancient Prophets.

At the end of this period he received a command to go to the Holy land, from Elijah the Prophet." Reply

Gerrie Malan Roodepoort, South Africa July 17, 2008

I have spent many months studying the Scriptures on the soul and spirit concepts. Still battling in some respects. The statement: the soul becomes spiritually refreshed - what exactly does the expression 'spiritually' mean in this context? Reply

Anonymous July 14, 2008

Rabbi Cotlar was my neighbor on Braesvalley Dr. in Meyerland, Houston. I knew his parents and sister. But I heard/knew nothing about Chabad!! I am an Israeli now. Reply

Yonatan Falmouth, MA July 13, 2008

If this is the case, why do Tzadikkim rarely sleep, or at a minimum sleep for only short periods of time? And if we are to emulate Tzadikkim is it bad for us to sleep in or take a nap once in awhile? Reply

Chaya Rivka CA August 24, 2007

So what does it mean when we have nightmares, even if we say Shema? Reply