O Let My Joys Have Some Abiding!

Felix Vallotton, Title: Femme couchee, dormant, Date: 1899.

When my children were young, they differed significantly in how they transitioned between being awake and being asleep. My daughter was like a toy that operates on batteries. Near the end of the day, her battery would begin to run down. She would attempt to stay awake, fighting sleep. In the end, she would be overcome and drift off. There was almost no transition for my son. He resembled a light that you turn off. He could be running gangbusters one minute and then the next, stop, lie down, and go to sleep almost immediately. My own pattern is more like my son’s than my daughter’s. I enjoy rest and rarely have a problem falling asleep. When I have a problem, I get up, read a while, perhaps eat something light, and then return, happily, to bed.

In Judaism, there is a saying about sleep, that it is 1/60th the part of death. Much about being asleep is like being dead. In both, so it is held, the body and soul separate. The first words I recite in the morning while still lying in bed are phrases of gratitude for my soul’s having been returned to me. In Hebrew, the “prayer” I say is called “Modeh Ani.” It gives voice to the idea that our soul leaves our body when we are sleeping but returns just before we wake in the morning, and we are grateful for that. In My Prayer, Nissan Mindel’s commentary on the prayerbook, he writes about what the soul is doing at night.

 Our Sages have told us that every night when we go to sleep, our Divine soul returns to its heavenly abode and gives an account of the good deeds and bad which the soul, in partnership with the body, had done during the day.

Nissan Mindel, My Prayer, p. 14

I no longer use an alarm clock to wake in the morning. I don’t really need one. After all my years of working, my body seems to have grown accustomed to rising at about 6 a.m. Usually, I don’t need a lot of sleep, only about four or five hours a night. However, I take a couple of twenty-minute naps during the day: one shortly after morning prayer, the other after walking our dog, Kulfi, in the afternoon. In these cases, I do use an alarm to wake me.

John Fletcher (1579-1625), an English playwright, penned a poem titled “Sleep.” In it, he identifies what, for me at least, is one of the truly great blessings of sleep, its ability to relieve us, even if only temporarily, of our grief, or worry, our tears and fears. 

COME, Sleep, and with thy sweet deceiving

        Lock me in delight awhile;

        Let some pleasing dreams beguile

        All my fancies; that from thence

        I may feel an influence

All my powers of care bereaving!

Though but a shadow, but a sliding,

        Let me know some little joy!

        We that suffer long annoy

        Are contented with a thought

        Through an idle fancy wrought:

O let my joys have some abiding!

Often, though admittedly not always, we can delight in our sleep. Would that it be that the joys we find in rest, in Fletcher’s words, always “have some abiding.” Psalm 30, my favorite psalm, states, as translated in the KJV: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. I believe that joy should be, can be, and often is the product of sleep, the Creator’s gift to us and all creation.

Peter Warlock (1894-1930), pseudonym of the English music critic and composer Philip Arnold Heseltine, set Fletcher’s poem to music beautifully, I believe. Here is a recording by the retired English lyric tenor Ian Partridge. Note that Warlock changed the first three words in Fletchers fifth line of the first stanza from “I may feel” to “There may steal.”

As you go about your busy week, it is my genuine wish for you that pleasant sleep and pleasant dreams refresh you nightly so that you can say that for you, “joy comes in the morning.”

All the best,

Author: Gershon Ben-Avraham

Gershon Ben-Avraham is an American-Israeli writer. He lives in Beersheba, Israel, on the edge of the Negev Desert. He and his wife share their lives with a gentle blue-merle long-haired collie. Ben-Avraham earned an MA in Philosophy (Aesthetics) from Temple University. His short story, “Yoineh Bodek,” (Image) received “Special Mention” in the Pushcart Prize XLlV: Best of the Small Presses 2020 Edition. Kelsay Books published his chapbook “God’s Memory” in 2021. חב"ד‎

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