Recently I’ve become somewhat of a restless sleeper. Falling asleep is not my problem, though. I’m pretty skilled at that part. It’s staying asleep that’s a struggle for me, especially following a particularly deep sleep early on in the night. Usually, by about 3:00 a.m. my mind starts to race, and my sleep goes from fluid to restless. It’s as if my brain thinks the best time to have an epiphany or take stock of my life is sometime in the wee hours, when all I really want to do is sleep. It has gotten to the point where I keep paper next to the bed so I can write down everything that comes out, not necessarily to save my thoughts, but to help them escape my brain so I can catch a few more hours of sleep.
But why do these deep thoughts strike when I’m not able to fully process them? Of course I don’t remember or understand half of what I write down in my sleepy haze, but I do know that for some people, the best ideas come at odd times, like in the shower, during a commute, or, like me, at 3:00 a.m. Perhaps it’s something about the calm darkness of night that offers a nice blank canvas for thoughts. This is often a place where epiphanies or trains of thought can occur. And apparently, our forefather Jacob and I have this in common.
Parshat Vayigash, this week’s Torah portion, reminds us of the different ways in which we see behavioral changes. In the parshah, Joseph’s brother Yehudah (Judah) tries to redeem himself by asking to be imprisoned instead of Benjamin, and Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and heroically invites the whole family to Egypt to save them from starvation in Israel. In addition, Joseph and his father Jacob are reunited, and Joseph is able to finally reveal his newfound position of power.
The entirety of Jacob’s story is lifted through the power of dreams. From the angels on the ladder when he runs away from home, to the messenger he wrestles, to even raising a son who is a dreamer himself, Jacob is the only forefather to whom God only speaks through dreams.
This week’s parshah is no different. Jacob was nervous about the trip to Egypt, including what it would be like to travel and to see his beloved Joseph once more. In a restless sleep, God reassures Jacob that it will all be fine. Why is it only under the cover of night when God speaks to Jacob? It could be because that’s when we let our guard down. That’s when we’re vulnerable enough to show our true intentions or spirit. As we end another secular year, may we take this lesson of vulnerability and openness into our waking lives too, so that we’re better able to welcome our truest selves.