Sleepless and Worried about Work

Dear Reb Shohama,

I am a practicing Jew. I keep Kosher, attend Shabbat services regularly, and even attend morning minyan several times a week. Yet I find I cannot sleep well at night, because I am too worried about my responsibilities to my family and my business. What advice do you have for me? Sincerely, Bob

Dear Bob,

You are not alone in your dilemma. In fact, it is a common complaint.

What I hear from your letter is that you are a doer—you perform many of the most important mitzvot (commandments) in Judaism. Yet it is not bringing you the peace of mind that you would like. This may be because you have not sought the comfort of bitachon- trust, and emunah- faith, that are available to you as a member of b’nai Israel, one of the sons of Israel, and a child of G-d.

Just as we are to turn all our worries over to G-d on Shabbat, so too we may turn them over when we go to sleep. In the traditional prayer said before going to sleep for the night, an expanded version of the Shema, we find the prayer of the archangels. (see Artscroll Siddur Kol Yaakov p. 294)

We are asked to imagine that we are surrounded by angels that protect us through their vibrations, Michael on our right, the energy of love, Gabriel on our left, the energy of strength, Uriel in front, the power of vision, and Rafael at our back, the energy of healing. The prayer concludes by saying that over our heads is the Shechinah, the Divine Presence. Many find that visualizing these angelic energies and saying their names brings a sense of calm and peace that allows them to sleep without anxiety.

It is not easy to just turn one’s worries over to G-d; it takes practice. Hearing other people’s stories can give us the courage to try. Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi, a great modern day rebbe, teaches that G-d is like the most powerful Partner we can imagine. It is important that we ask our Partner for that which we need, so that it can be given to us.

I remember clearly the day in 1978 I first asked for G-d’s help. My then husband was seriously ill, I didn’t know how I would find the strength to care for our three young children, and I was desperate. So I said to G-d. "I don’t know if you exist, but if you do and you let me know, I will listen and follow."

I felt G-d answer as a sense of warmth and love emanated from my heart. I began to study Hebrew and Bible, and to pray regularly. Although I had moments of worry and fear, I never again felt so desperate or alone.

Another way to build faith is through Jewish meditation. Perhaps you can find a Jewish meditation teacher who will introduce you to practices that will build your sense of connection to G-d, and your trust in G-d’s guiding presence. Alternatively, find a teacher of Jewish prayer and blessings who really believes in their efficacy. Faith is caught, not taught.

The great story of the Exodus from Mitrayim- Egypt, which we tell not only at Passover but in every Jewish service, is to remind us that Mitzrayim is not only a political state but a state of mind. It literally means narrow place, and refers to that state of anxiety and worry that comes from feeling we are alone in our efforts to make things right. When we remember we have a Divine Partner and ask for help, we will receive the help we need.

May you find the courage to make G-d your partner in helping with your family, your business, and all your concerns.

B’vrachah, with blessings, Reb Shohama

Suggested reading: "Reb Zalman’s Story: God as Partner," in Worlds of Jewish Prayer, eds. Shohama Harris Wiener and Jonathan Omer-Man, Jason Aronson, Inc. Northvale, NY, 1993, pp. 283-286.