August 26: Prayer before going to sleep
בְּיָדוֹ אַפְקִיד רוּחִי, בְּעֵת אִישַׁן וְאָעִֽירָה.
וְעִם רוּחִי גְּוִיָּתִי, יְיָ לִי וְלֹא אִירָא.
The Sh’ma al ha-Mittah (the Jewish bed-time prayer service) demands of us that we not slip mindlessly into slumber, but rather make conscious the transition from the active, daytime world, of business, of relationship, in which we have relative control over our lives, to the realm of sleep, in which we have none, are powerless.
It opens with a dramatic statement, of intention to forgive anyone who may have harmed us, whether intentionally or not, in any way, physically, spiritually, or economically. Of course it is impossible to do this completely and irrevocably, and we are cognizant that many of those old angers and resentments will return, at least in part, on the morrow. Nevertheless, this is an essential accounting, a preparation for the journey into the unknown, into night, as we put behind us the dying day’s unfinished business.
The entire service is marked by a developing sense of humility, of progressively relinquishing autonomy, of faith in divine benevolence, and it concludes with the words from the Adon Olam, printed above, “and into Your hand I commit my soul, when I sleep or awaken, and with my soul, my body too. H’ is with me, I shall not fear.”
The next prayer we utter, on awakening in the morning, is an expression of gratitude for the restoration of soul, of consciousness, of aliveness, Modah (Modeh) Ani.
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