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


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