Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why Do We Sleep?




I was listening to a program from wnyc.org (NPR's New York City affiliate) called Radio Lab. The program was explaining various aspects of the purpose and mechanics of sleep. You can listen to that portion of the program here:

It reminded me of a conversation I had with Rabbi Pesach Krohn almost 10 years ago, when I once had the opportunity to spend Shabbos with him. He posed the following question (paraphrased):

Why did Hashem create us with the need for sleep? I can think of good reasons for almost every other part of human life. There are ways in which we can learn and grow spiritually from eating, marriage, breathing, talking, working, etc. But why sleep? It's simply 4-8 hours of time wasted. I understand that we cannot function without it, so in that sense it's productive. But why did Hashem create us with the need for sleep to begin with?

He ended up opining that the only answer he could come up with that was somewhat satisfying to him was that Hashem created sleep so that people would always have the ability to put a sense of finality on the Yesterday. We'd always be able to have a sense of closure and say, "What happened yesterday is over. Today I can start again. It's a new chance." If there were no sleep and one day just ran into the next, then we would never really feel that our past was behind us. Today would just be one long continuation of yesterday's failures. Sleep means a break and an opening for Teshuva.

One of the Scientists interviewed on Radio Lab explained one of the functions of sleep. The brain collects memories of virtually everything that happens during the day. Many of those memories are worth remembering and integrating and others are not. During sleep, the brain is very active, and neurologically dulls down and washes away most of the non-important or minor memories. The only memories left over are the stronger, more important ones which could not be washed away by the neurological waves that cleansed the person's memories throughout the night. This phenomenon explains why people sometimes work on mastering a skill or an information-set before going to bed, without mastering it, but upon awaking are surprised to find that they have made much progress. It is not so much that sleep helped him learn what was blocked to him before. Rather, it washed away all of the other memories that were getting in the way of the primary one.

This is a bit like what Rabbi Krohn suggested. As we go through our days, we build up not only unwanted memories of inconsequential events and information, but also thoughts, words and actions that are better left in the past. Just as sleep washes away the thoughts and memories that deserve to be left in the past on a neurological level, spiritually too sleep is needed to push the past into the past, so that we can move on with what is worth saving to a new day, unencumbered by yesterday's failings.

-Dixie Yid
(Picture courtesy of azfotos.com)

15 comments:

A Simple Jew said...

Regarding sleep, Rabbi Ozer Bergman once told me, "Since sleep is 1/60 of death, how we go to sleep is how we die. If a person takes care to review his day and make peace with G-d and man before going to sleep, he will most likely have that opportunity before he leaves this world."

chabakuk elisha said...

Interesting!

The Shabbos before last, I noticed that the Baal HaTanya in Likktei Torah spoke about this (last maamar in parshas Bahalosecha) as discussed at how everything begins anew and yesterday dosent have anything to do with today.
i.e. the person that we were yesterday has "passed away," and with the new day we are Adam HaRishon - a newly created being - with none of our previous baggage, etc...

A Simple Jew said...

Here is another teaching I once saw on this topic from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, "The soul ascends on high during sleep and draws its life force from above, from a level it cannot reach when awake. This is because the soul is then released from the body's constrictions, thus drawing energy from a higher source."

chabakuk elisha said...

ASJ,
Right - this is conencted to how klal Yisroel could have slept late by Mattan Torah, and why certain Tzaddikim would sleep on erev Shabbos...

DixieYid said...

ASJ and Chabakuk Elisha, great additions.

Chabakuk Elisha, as I'm sure you know, some Tzaddikim slept on Shabbos afternoon. In order to sepparate between the lower level of Kedusha of Shabbos morning and the higher level of Rava D'Ra'von at Mincha time, they took a nap to have an aspect of death of the old level, in order to attain the new level at Shabbos Mincha time.

You all probably know the story of Rav Chaim Vital witnessing the AR"I Hakadosh sleeping for 3 hours one Shabbos afternoon and reporting that he had been revealed volumes of secrets of Torah during that time of sleep.

I believe the Piaszezna rebbe says in one of his three ma'amarim at the end of Chovas Hatalmidim many of the things ASJ said from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt"l, about the
ascention of the neshoma during sleep.

-Dixie Yid

yitz.. said...

Sleep is death, and it's bitul.. even if we can't reach bitul during the day, we get to taste it at night.. so it will give us an example for living..

In the beginning of Likkutei Halachot, the halachot of waking in the morning and washing hands, Rebbe Natan discusses sleep a lot.

I have a post here that sums up some of what he says. (I also happened to relate it to science, a little) From that post I actually linked a few related posts to it..

Like how the Noam Elimelech says that HaShem sleeps down here in this world.

Also my favorite midrash is relevant here: When HaShem created Adam HaRishon, the Malachim couldn't tell him apart from HaShem and so they didn't know who to praise. It was only when HaShem made Adam HaRishon fall asleep (vayipol alav tardaymah) that the Malachim recognized HaShem.

The midrash was meant to teach the level of Tzelem Elokim.. so sleep is somehow what differentiates the Tzelem from the Elokim ..

also interesting, that there has to be more to sleep than just that it's a taste of death (or the death of yesterday or a death of the old self), because Adam HaRishon had not yet sinned and there was no death yet in the world, and still he slept!?! Was the creation of Chava a lowering of the level of the world? (ie. a form of death)

Death, in hassidut and kabbalah is defined as a fall in one's level.

I don't know if sleep falls into the same definition

DixieYid said...

Yitz,

Thank you. I got a lot out of your post that you linked on sleep. There is just so much to this that it's hard to know what to study or talk about.

The science that you refer to in that post is also referred to in the program I listened to. I added a live streaming link to that portion of the program in my main post, for reference.

All this makes me wonder: How is it that many Tzaddikim, some of whom I know, seem to get by on only 2 hours of sleep or so per day, and yet accomplish unbelievable amounts during their awake time. It's astounding and I wonder where it fits into all of this...

-Dixie Yid

A Simple Jew said...

Here is the other reference I was telling you about via e-mail:

The Baal Shem Tov taught that before sleep one should recite the words, "Havadai sh'mo, kein tehilaso - His name is Certainty; such is His praise, " from the Mussaf prayer service of Rosh Hashana. This will destroy all forces of unholiness that might seek to harm one during sleep.

Anonymous said...

I thought you were going to tie this in with Parshas Korach --

Tzaddikim have a koach to be m'saken people's neshomos while those people are sleeping. That's why Moshe Rabbeinu told the Adas Korach, "Boker v'yoda Ha-shem es asher lo," meaning, "Go to sleep, and in the morning, you'll be refreshed and reconnected to Ha-shem." However, the Adas Korach didn't want Moshe Rabbeinu to be m'saken them; so, they stayed awake all that night with leitzonus.

I heard this from a choshuve Breslover chossid.

DixieYid said...

Anon 11:50,

That's so amazing that you say that. I just heard that vort twice. Once from my chevrusa this morning in the name of a R' Areleh Chossid who calls him periodically to raise funds, and the other from A Simple Jew, above in the comments, in the name of Rav Ozer Bergman who said, "Since sleep is 1/60 of death, how we go to sleep is how we die. If a person takes care to review his day and make peace with G-d and man before going to sleep, he will most likely have that opportunity before he leaves this world." Though he didn't connect that specific vort to Korach, but it is the same idea that one should make a cheshbon Hanefesh each night before sleeping, and had Korach done that, he would not have brought the Ketores. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

dixieyid --

Glad you liked it.

The kneitch in my vort is a little bit different, inasmuch as the Adas Korach would lechoira have gotten their tikkun involuntarily, had they gone to sleep that night.

A lechtigen Shabbos,
anonymous (formerly of 11:50 AM)

DixieYid said...

Anon 12:24 (formerly 11:50 :-),

That's true. I noticed that when I re-read your comment after submiting mine. It goes to another interesting mental phenomenon. I had the similar vort from the R' Arela Chossid in my head, so when you said what you said, I wasn't really "listening." Rather, I was thinking about the vort I'd heard. It's a mussar to be more aware of. Good Shabbos!

-Dixie Yid

yitz.. said...

i just came across the article about sleep which is apparently based on the teachings of the last chabad Rebbe:

http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article.asp?AID=60876

DixieYid said...

Thank you Yitz! That's a great article. It is exactly what Rav Krohn said. I left a comment asking for their mekor for that vort so I know where it comes from. Yasher koach.

-Dixie Yid

DixieYid said...

Thank you Yitz! That's a great article. It is exactly what Rav Krohn said. I left a comment asking for their mekor for that vort so I know where it comes from. Yasher koach.

-Dixie Yid