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A Refreshing Death

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Every day, some 43,200,000,000 man-hours are slept down the drain.

That’s 6 billion individuals, each sleeping an average of 7.2 hours every calendar day. One might argue that slumbered time is our most wasted resource.

Indeed, why spend 25 to 30 percent of our lives doing nothing? Why sleep?

To many of the planet’s sleepers, this may seem a pointless question. Why sleep? Because our body demands it of us. Because that is how we are physiologically constructed—that we require so many hours of rest each day in order to function. But to the Jew, there are no pointless questions. If G-d created us a certain way, there is a reason. He could just as easily have created us without the need for sleep, so that every moment of our lives could be put to constructive use. If our active hours must always be preceded by the minor death of sleep, there is a lesson here, a truth that is fundamental to the nature of human achievement.

Growing By Leaps

Another intrinsic fact of life is growth. In the first two decades of life, our growth is at its most real and tangible. We daily gain knowledge and experience. We can even gage our growth by inches of height gained per year or by the steady maturing of our bodies. But growth is a lifetime endeavor. Indeed, it can be said that there is no stasis in life: that the mind that ceases to learn, forgets what it has learned in the past; that the heart that ceases to develop new feelings, atrophies emotionally. That in every area of life, one who ceases to progress, regresses.

However, there are two types of growing. One growth is a progressional growth, a growth in which each gain is based upon, and is proportional to, our past achievements. Here the past develops into the future, improving and perfecting itself in the process.

But there also exists another type of growth–a growth that is a complete departure from the past. A growth that is a leap upward for something that is beyond relation to all that has been previously achieved. For we have the capacity to not only improve but also transcend ourselves. To open a new chapter in life that is neither predicted nor enabled by what we did and were up until now. To free ourselves of yesterday’s constraints and build a new, recreated self.

This is what the void of sleep contributes to our lives. If we didn’t sleep, there would be no tomorrow–life would be a single, seamless “today.” If we didn’t sleep, our every thought and deed would be an outgrowth of all our previous thoughts and deeds. There would be no new beginnings in our lives, for the very concept of a “new beginning” would be utterly alien to us. If we did not experience the obliterating passivity of sleep, we could not possibly conceive of a break from the past.

Because we sleep, we are accorded what is perhaps the greatest gift of life: morning.

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Av 6, 5750 (July 28, 1990. Sefer Hasichot pp. 596-599) and on other ocassions.

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