לֹא יִשְׁכַּב עַד-יֹאכַל טֶרֶף (במדבר 23:24)
…he does not lie down until he consumes his prey…
Rashi explains this pasuk that the prey that he consumes are the harmful forces which come to damage him. Those forces may be either physical or spiritual, yet when he lies down after reciting kriyas shema, he entrusts his soul to the hands of the Omnipresent, who thereby destroys anything coming to hurt him.
Kriyas Shema that is said before going to sleep is a gem of an expression of whom we are and in what we believe. Yet I have been told that unfortunately many people do not say it properly. I would like to reinforce this halacha based on the comments of Rav Shimshon Pincus in this week’s parsha.
Before we embark on something new, we often acknowledge things which are important to us. With the breaking of dawn every day, that brings with it new responsibilities and challenges, we pray to Hashem for his help. This idea even exists in the secular world: Before playing a sports game, people will pledge allegiance that they are loyal citizens and ready to uphold the ideas of the society in which they live (do you ever wonder why the national anthem is sung before a baseball game?). While this idea is understandable while a person is awake, at night he is effectively going into “sleep” mode. What would be the rationale of acknowledging our purpose when we are withdrawing from the purpose of our existence? We understand and acknowledge that Hashem takes our souls at night, brings them to din, and returns them to our bodies in the morning. Aside from the danger of the din, our physical body is left vulnerable to spiritual and physical predators. We are lacking the ability to protect ourselves as we can, when we have full control of our faculties.
Before a person dies, it is customary for him to make a last will and testament. The purpose of this document is essentially to express his intent of the purpose of his life and how those ideals should be carried on after he leaves this world. So too, before entering into sleep mode, he must make a statement as to who he is and what he wants. By acknowledging “Hashem Echad” he is putting himself under the protection of Hashem, and indeed Hashem will protect him. This statement makes the sleep of the Jew different from the sleep of the gentile, who is just recharging his batteries. Rashi in Brachos 8b tells us that a person who goes to sleep without saying kriyas shema is equated to a gentile going to sleep! This connection to Hashem and confidence that Hashem will protect him, is the force that fends off the predators even before they attack.
In this week’s parsha, we are told how Jews living a virtuous life were able to avert a curse, even though they didn’t know that there was an enemy plotting against them. So too now, as we are about to enter the period known as the “three weeks”, during which historically the nations of the world have caused untold damage to klal Yisrael. This would be an opportune time for us to demonstrate our firm belief that we are in the hands of the creator, by strengthening our saying and kavana of Krias Shema al hamita.