To Sleep Or Not To Sleep In Shul That Is The Question

At almost any play, movie, event, or talk that I attend, I fall sound asleep during at least some part of it. I’ve paid hundreds of dollars to go see Broadway shows and went right to sleep within minutes of the lights going down. I’ve fallen asleep during a Yankee World Series game at Yankee stadium.

”Rabbi, do you want me to come to your class, even though I will fall asleep?”

I also fall asleep every time I open a book and start reading in bed. I have one book I’ve been reading for 12 years. I pick up the book, start to read about a paragraph or two and my eyes start banging up and down like a broken electric garage door. I then drop the book out of my hands and I’m gone.

The good news is I don’t ever feel like I’ve wasted my money or missed out on anything by falling asleep. I’m always happy and grateful after a solid nap. And if there is something good to be found in my falling asleep is I don’t snore or bob my head up and down like some junkie in a stairwell in some crack house. I just sit with my head down generally holding a book or playbill or bag of nuts. I also am considerate not to ask people what I missed when I wake up. The truth is I don’t care what I missed. I got a good nap and that’s all that matters. The few times I’ve gone to the Opera I’m sorry to say the opposite has happened. I could not fall asleep. That to me is a horror. Staying awake while pudgy Italians are screaming for three hours to me is the equivalent of being water boarded.

But what about when you go to hear your Rabbi teach Torah, or give a sermon or to hear some other spiritual leader try to pass on to you the deep meaning of life. Should you still go to hear them if you know you’re going to fall asleep? Is it disrespectful to go? Is it rude? When we lived in San Antonio, I remember saying to our rabbi, “Rabbi Scheinberg, I want to come hear you every week but I need to tell you that more than likely, I will fall asleep during part of or possibly all of your talk.” He laughed because he thought I was joking with him. He said, “You won’t be alone.” I asked again, “Do you still want me to come?” He said, “Absolutely, please come.” I went every week and fell asleep every time. As soon as he opened his book to begin teaching, it was like I was being hypnotized. My eyes would start to glaze over and bingo, I was gone.

But I’m not alone with this. I remember Rabbi Marvin Heir once telling someone that when he was a pulpit rabbi in Canada, the police came to his shul and asked, “In case of emergency, how many could you sleep here if necessary?” He said, “I sleep three hundred and fifty here every Saturday morning.” Going to hear a Rabbi is the best of both worlds. I get a good nap, I learn a little Torah, and hopefully, I get the mitzvah for attending the shiur.

For the record, whatever event I go to, my intention is to stay awake. Unfortunately, I have never won that battle. In this respect, I’m very much like a dog. I can fall asleep any time or place. I can remember as far back as 4th grade when my teacher asked me to wake up and pay attention. I don’t know that being awake and paying attention are mutually exclusive. At least not for me. You can ask my wife about that one. I’ve been awake many times and heard her say, “Are you listening to me?”

I was born with a dumb look on my face and it has stuck. I also have an uncanny ability to repeat back word for word what people say to me without paying the slightest attention to what they are actually saying. When people talk to me it’s almost like having the radio on in the background. My mother would say, “Living with you is like living with a parrot. Because you can repeat back what I’m saying doesn’t mean you hear anything I’ve said.”

Doctors tell you if you’re tired, you should try and go to sleep. I’m always tired and I never have to try and fall asleep. It just happens naturally. Well, looks like it’s almost naptime. Goodnight!