Sleeping on the Job
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Imagine going to sleep and having the most spectacular dream humanly possible. Yaacov dreamt of a ladder standing with its feet planted firmly in the ground extending deep into the heavens. This became the trademark for spirituality. On it walked Angels of G-d. They went up and they went down. The Torah shares with us just a very short part of one of the most spectacular dreams in history. Yaacov saw the future of the world and the vital part the Jews played in the unpacking of history. The Angels going up and down referred to the rise and fall of the Empires of the world. Yaakov slept and received a prophecy for all generations. The image of Jacob's ladder was the most spectacular prophetic vision ever.
Then he wakes up. Yaakov is shaken. He is disturbed. “How can it be that I was in the presence of the Almighty and did not even know it?” Instead of being on a high and bubbling with excitement, Yaakov was disappointed. Instead of transcendent joy, Yaakov felt chagrin. Instead of ecstatic expansion of the mind as a result of his sublime prophecy, Yaakov felt ill at ease. Why? Our Sages tell us that he was mortified. Here he was at one of the holiest spots on Earth and he went to sleep! If he had known how holy the spot was he would never have gone to sleep there. But what about the prophecy?! If he had not gone to sleep there would have been no Angels, no ladder and no glimpse into the future of world history.
The answer; as great as the dream of Yaakov was while he was sleeping; his prophecy would have been even greater if he would have stayed awake. His encounter would have been even more holy and more intense if he would have stayed open-eyed. He could have risen to incredible spiritual levels. He could have attained the most profound prophetic insights. He could have penetrated the deepest secrets of the universe. But instead he went to sleep. It is little wonder that Jacob awoke disappointed.
In our own lives, we sometimes fall asleep on hallowed ground.
The Chasam Sofer who was against long naps on Shabbos used to say to his people that if you want to be a Shomer Shabbos, a guard of Shabbos, as a shomer you can’t sleep on the job.
The few moments we spend with our children everyday and with our husbands and wives are very hallowed. But not realizing the power of the moment we too often sleep right through the experience. When we wake up we realize what we slept through and we become frustrated with disappointment. “If only I would have known I would have captured the moment. I certainly would not have slept.”
When we come to Shul, we are standing on hallowed ground. In Shul we have it within our grasp to reach for the sublime. When I was in Yerushalayim last summer I visited a Shul called Yakar. On the wall there is a sign in Hebrew that reads, “If you talk during davening, when will you daven?” Our lives are so busy, so hectic, so pressured. When do we have a chance to stop and reflect on who we are, what we are and if were going in the derech of Hashem? When do we get a chance to reflect and thank Hashem for all the wonderful things that happen to us? But if we talk in Shul we are sleeping on the job.
One of the innovations of modern technology I absolutely abhor is call waiting. You’re on the phone with someone having a personal conversation and you get a click. You excuse yourself for a second to see who is calling. You decide the second caller is more important than the first so you hang up on the first person. Think about the message you are giving. One of the ways I know that I am talking to a truly great human being is that no matter how busy they are, for the five minutes or even one minute that I am talking to them, they belong to me. Nothing is more important. If you are in the middle of davening to Hashem and you think of something more important to talk about so you stand up and take a walk, what does that say about my davening? If our children are telling us about their day and we continue to stare at the computer screen or at the TV or we answer the telephone than we are sleeping in a hallowed spot. Our children get the message, whoever is on the telephone, is more important than they are. Let's not wake up disappointed when it is already too late. Let's stay awake for the holiest moments of life.
When Moshe Rabeinu stood at the burning bush Moshe began to think about where he had come from and where this miraculous experience would take him. Hashem’s statement to Moshe was simple; “The place on which you stand is holy ground”. The Chofetz Chaim commented that this was a message for all generations. Stop thinking about where you were or where you are going. “The place on which you stand is holy ground.”
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