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Va-etchanan 5782 ~ August 12, 2022

Just the other night, our grandson was on FaceTime with us from Florida. At just under four years of age, I enjoy every moment I can get with him on FaceTime. I know that many of you have that same reality, though we all wait for that anticipated trip to see them in person and have that in-person bonding. Until recently, before my son and daughter-in-law moved to the Sunshine State, that was much easier, but as we interact with my grandson on FaceTime, I see much of his father within him.

Often, Cory and I discuss the stories we remember from when he was that age. Here is one from those days that Cory and I just discussed the other night.

At nighttime, just before bed, I would lie down beside Cory and either read or tell Cory a made-up story. Cory loved stories of ghosts. So, together we would sit and make up stories, and almost always there had to be something about ghosts in the story.

One night, as we finished reading through one of those ghost stories, he turned to me and said, “Daddy, I am scared. Would you sleep with me.” Usually, I would answer in the affirmative, but we were trying to wean Cory off being scared to sleep alone and needing Daddy, so I turned to him and said, “Gee Cory, I can’t tonight. Tonight you need to sleep by yourself.”

 “But, Daddy, if that is the case then you shouldn’t have read me these stories!” Wow, that was all I needed, a guilt trip from my son! What would you do in such an instance? Should I cower into my son’s demands? Was I responsible for his being frightened that night? Were there alligators under his bed coming up from the sewers?

I turned to Cory and said: “Remember the tune we used to sing when you were a baby? It went something like this:

“Twinkle, twinkle kochavim (stars), High up in the shamayim (sky), If I say my “Shema” each night everything will be all right….”

Well, if you say your “Shema,” Hashem will watch over you.” Sounds like a good thought, especially coming from a rabbi. Cory quickly said the Shema, rolled over and went to sleep.

A few days later, I overheard a conversation between Cory and his grandmother. She was saying how afraid she was of something. He turned to her and said, “Grandma, you don’t have to be frightened. All you have to do is say your “Shema” and everything will be all right. Daddy told me that the other day. And you know what Grandma, it helped me. I was able to go right to sleep!”

Could this be such a simple task? Can we just say the words of the prayer and no longer be frightened about what lies ahead of us? Would we sleep better at night knowing that G-d is always with us?

It is specifically for that reason that those who attend evening minyan may notice that I always read the passage both in Hebrew and English: “Into Your hands I entrust my spirit, You will redeem me, Adon-ai, God of truth.”

Rabbi Shmuel of Shinova tells how he had a major headache and went to his rebbe, Rabbi Simchah Bunim of Pischa. “I remember that I told him that I was worried over the fact that when I prayed, my head hurt and that I sometimes had a really severe headache because I was tired and it was too hard to pray with kavanah - the proper intention. My rebbe said to me: “What does a headache have to do with prayer?” One’s prayer should be primarily from the heart, as it states, “To serve him with all you hearts,” as found in the Shema. And Rashi explains, quoting the Talmud, that the service of the heart is prayer.’”

As long as our minds our filled with anxieties and fears, with business dealings and other items that preoccupy our minds, then we cannot go to sleep. However, if we allow our minds to become clear by transferring our emotions to our hearts, then we can become less stressed and more relaxed.

And that is what prayer is all about. It won’t just happen. It takes practice, but once you reach that mode, then the sky is the height of Adonai. For then the words “Shema Yisrael,” Hear oh Israel, Adon-ai is our God and Adon-ai is one, becomes more than just an affirmation of faith as prescribed by Moses in our reading this week.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi K.

Sat, April 1 2023 10 Nisan 5783