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Eternal Awakening
by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

Lack of sleep, a common problem in children, can have widespread effects on their overall health and intellectual and emotional development. Many studies have shown that a regular sleep routine for children promotes optimal cognitive maturation. To ensure that the child gets enough sleep at night, parents must institute a workable bedtime routine. A good approach is to allow the child a say in determining his own bedtime schedule. This way the child will follow it happily with little resistance, and will enjoy more restful, satisfying sleep.

Ideally, a child should be tucked into bed in an atmosphere of warmth and closeness. This gives the child a sense of security, while establishing a base for a secure, loving relationship.

Jewish tradition has a number of well-established bedtime routines, all of which contribute to a child's sense of safety and security. The first is kissing the mezuzah, which strengthens the child's trust in G-d, Who watches over him. The name of G-d engraved on the outside of the mezuzah, Sha-dai, is an acronym for Shomer Daltot Yisrael--the One Who guards the doors of Israel.

The bedtime routine continues with reading a story, usually a tale from the Midrash or Chassidic tradition. The stories tend to emphasize themes such as hashgachah pratit, the individual Divine Providence that directs every episode in our lives, or the greatness of tzadikim, the righteous ones who pray for us and in whose merit we are blessed with wellbeing. These stories help a child go to bed with a sense of security and trust in G-d.

The bedtime story is followed by the recital of Shema before bed--a classic prayer which expresses our absolute faith in G-d's presence - “Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One.” Then we prepare to return our soul to G-d for the night--“In Your hands I entrust my soul, You will redeem me, G-d of truth.”

In this small space it is not possible to elaborate on all the deep and mystical meanings in the Kriat Shema prayer. However, it is important to note that this is a prayer not only for children. Even in adulthood, we recite this prayer every night before sleep and every morning after awakening--as the verse states, “With goodness I will lie down, with mercy I will awaken.”

In a deeper sense, this prayer signifies the transition from this world to the world to come, the world of eternal good. We will cross over from one world to the next without the interruption of death, but as healthy souls in healthy bodies, with the true and complete Redemption. 

Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.



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