11 Cheshvan 5782 / Sunday, October 17, 2021 | Torah Reading: Lech Lecha
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The Sleepwalker    

The Sleepwalker

Most of the world behaves like sleepwalkers – they don't know where they are or even who they are, they don't understand what they're doing or where they're going, and why...


The young man really looked strange walking down the street in slippers and blue-striped pajamas.  Even worse, he was bewildered. He didn't feel like he was intentionally walking – he felt as if his legs were being moved one by one like some remote controlled robot. He sensed that his limbs were moving, but he wasn't getting anywhere. He had no destination nor any idea where he was going.


Stopping a passerby, the young man asked, “Where am I?” The passerby muttered something in a language that the young man didn't understand and kept on walking...


Reaching a corner, the young man looked up at the street sign. He didn't understand that either, for it was written in a strange language that looked oriental. The young man had no idea where he was. For all he knew, he could have been in Bangkok, Mongolia or Tokyo. He was hungry and thirsty, but he had no idea where to seek food and drink. Even if he knew the local language and could ask for food, he didn't have a cent in his pajama pockets, much less local currency. How could he have local currency when he didn't even know where he was?


A deep sadness enveloped the young man like  a thick, gray cloud. What could be more frustrating? He had no idea where he was going. He didn't know where he was; 'lost' was an understatement. He felt out of place and embarrassed in his slippers and pajamas. He was penniless. Just as he felt that he couldn't stand another moment of this Dante-type limbo, a compassionate voice echoed in the back of his brain, “Wake up, Daniel! You're sleepwalking! This has been a dream...”


Daniel opened his eyes and let out a deep sigh of relief. He shook the cobwebs out of his brain and smiled to himself. “Modeh ani lefanecha...”, he said in joy. “Thank You, Hashem, that I am getting up from my bed in my bedroom in my own home in my beloved country. Thank You, Hashem, that I am not a penniless, frustrated sleepwalker in a strange land with nothing to nourish my body and soul. Thank You, Hashem, for Your Torah and commandments and for helping me find my way home to You.” Pondering his good fortune, Daniel flew out of bed looking forward to his pre-prayer early-morning delight of a page of Gemara and a cup of strong Turkish coffee.


Daniel is a lucky guy. His bad dream was brief. It was probably an impression from his pre-Torah past, when he truly didn't know where he was, what he was doing on earth or where he was going. In time, he learned that his Jewish soul was like a sophisticated system of navigation. Yet, without the reference point of the North Star or magnetic north, the navigational system is worthless. For a Jewish soul, the Torah is the reference point that keeps it on course.


We look around us and we see so many people who lack exactly like the sleepwalker in Daniel's dream. They don't know what they're doing on earth and don't know where they're going. They feel a nagging inner hunger and thirst that never gets satiated no matter how many fancy restaurants they frequent. They wish they had that new car or that dream house with the swimming pool, but shortly after they attain it, they still feel empty and depressed. Why? They're good people – even wonderful people – but they're a sophisticated compass that lacks a reference point and therefore doesn't function.


On Shavuot, we not only commemorate receiving Torah on Mount Sinai on the 6th of Sivan, 2448; we celebrate the Torah as if we received it for the first time.


On the occasion of receiving the Torah, Moses tells the Jewish People, “Today, you are a nation!” You are no longer sleepwalkers in a strange land. You now have a national identity as will as an individual mission in life. What's more, you have satiation for your exquisite soul that can't be satisfied by anything else. As such, we must be extremely happy and grateful for our good fortune; that's why Rashi tells us that we should always feel as if we received the Torah anew.


With the above in mind, we can now understand why we stay awake all night long on Shavuot. Moses had to wake the Jewish People up the night they received the Torah, for they were sleeping. Our sages tell us that staying awake on Shavuot is a rectification of when our ancestors were sleeping. Even more than that – if I'm not mistaken, with Hashem's loving grace – we stay wide awake to rejoice that we're not sleepwalkers. By virtue of the holy Torah, we know who we are and where we're going. We are privy to the most valuable asset in Heaven and earth – Divine wisdom. Ashrenu, how fortunate we are! Happy Shavuot!


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