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.