sleep: the answer to every question

We tend to view sleep as a negative attribute, probably because of external influence from the catholic 'deadly sin' of sloth. Though the Rambam does say that eight hours a day is necesary for a healthy lifestyle. (I think according to his system the hours before chatzot count double, so you can actually get by on 4-6 hours of actual sleep according to his system. I haven't learned either of these points inside though, so don't take my word for it.)

Rebbe Natan in Likkutei Halachot proposes a radically different take on sleep, one that science nowadays is starting to come around to. According to science, sleep is one of the better study methods. Alternating learning and napping will help with your recall of the information you are studying. Also, sleep performs myriad other mental and bodily functions that scientists are only beginning to understand. The health deficits of not sleeping are something most of us have experienced personally at one time or another, but perhaps we haven't ended up with psychotic episodes like others severely deprived of proper sleep.

Anyways, back to Rebbe Natan. In the halachot of washing of hands in the morning, he explains that day is related to order, and night to disorder or chaos. During the night, our minds get more disordered and more chaotic, until we sleep when our minds and souls depart entirely. Then when we awake, we are invigorated with new minds and refreshed souls that give our body new life. While we sleep and the body is in a chaotic state, the Other Side creeps into our body, specifically our hands which are the seat of our actions. When we awake, with a new Daat, a new mind, a new revellation of God, the first thing we do is immerse our hands in water. The water represents God's mercies which are newly revealed during the day, and through this the Other Side is driven out of the body, so that the hands are then capable of using this new mind and soul in action, without letting it become tainted.

In this way, we return chaos to a state where it is embedded within order, achieving controlled or ordered chaos, which is the ideal state. Similarly he explains, on Rosh HaShanah, we return the whole world to a place of sleep, of total bitul (negation) of mind/intellect. From there, the shofar awakens us again, and returns our breath(disorder) and our voice(order). When we use our voices to pray to HaShem we are once more clothing the chaos in a controlled state.

The Noam Elimelech quotes the Zohar in explaining that Noah is a name that refers to all tzaddikim, because they are noah (comforting) to both heaven and earth. But having learned Rebbe Natan's explanation last night, I can now take the Zohar a level deeper: Tzaddikim return the heavens and the earth to a state of negation, a state of rest or slumber, (noah can mean to nap or sleep and comes from the root of the word Menuhah--which is the joyous slumber experienced on Shabbat--which is why, perhaps, tzaddikim are also called by the name Shabbat.) so that they(the heavens and the earth) can be rededicated and cleansed to serve God anew.


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