Stepping In and Stepping Out

Posted on February 5, 2014

Each morning we say a beautiful bracha, “hama’avir shaina me’ainay, u’tenuma me’afapay” which means, “God removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids”, at least that is the Artscroll translation…if we look deeper, at the two words, “shaina” and “tenuma” both mean sleep – we find these words elsewhere, in a pasuk in Tehillim, which many of us may be familiar with (תהילים פרק קכא),

” הנה לא-ינום, ולא יישן – שומר, ישראל”

“Behold, the Protector of Israel does not sleep or slumber”

The commentaries there explain something beautiful, these two words have two distinct definitions representing two aspects of sleep – “shiana” whose root shares a meaning with words like “to teach” or “to change” represents the aspect of sleep which is transformative, a growth process. Rebuilding our strength from the day, processing what we may have experienced in the form of dreams, building ourselves for the coming day. Sleep is a growth process. The other word, “tenuma”, shares root meanings with words like “the withdraw” and “to weaken” and is about the opposite aspect of sleep. When we sleep, we withdraw from the world, we are vulnerable and weak. (As the commentaries on Tehillim explain, neither of these aspects are applicable to Hashem. He has no need to grow or change for He is perfect, and He cannot be weakened nor does He withdraw from our worlds.)

One of the messages to take from this bracha, this pasuk, and this conception of sleep, is to realize the duality of all of our actions. When we withdraw from one thing, we are, at the same time, engaging in something else. When we withdraw from the world to sleep, we are engaging in self-development. Every action we take has a duality to it and we must consider this when making choices, sometimes we must make the hard choice of abandoning or withdrawing from things which we enjoy in order to engage in things that will develop us into better, more complete people. Whether it be taking a year off to study about Judaism after graduating from high school, taking a break from playing Call of Duty to daven mincha, or waking up early so we can help our parents, in life we have to look at the duality of our actions when making choices – we must realize that often times when we step out of one thing, we are stepping in to something else.

(Of course, the opposite is also true, when we begin something new we must also look backward and see what it is that we are stepping out of in order to step in to whatever new pursuit we are beginning. When we make new friends, are we leaving old, valuable ones behind? When we start volunteering at an old age home are we leaving our parents with too many chores at home? We must also look at all aspects and impacts of our choices to evaluate whether they are the right ones – and more often than not we need to consult with others to guide us.)