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Bedtime Shema

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The Bedtime Shema or Kriat Shema al Hamitah, is an extended version of the traditional Shema prayer and is recited before going to sleep. (Most siddurs, or prayerbooks, have the full text listed in the Weekday Ma’ariv section). The Torah prescribes that one should recite the Shema “when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:7, 11:9).

Nowadays, this is manifested in the inclusion of the prayer in the Shachrit (morning) and Ma’ariv (evening) services. However, an additional practice of reciting the Shema before going to sleep developed in rabbinic times.

Below is the full English text of the Bedtime Shema and a video of a musical interpretation of the Bedtime Shema, followed by an explanation of the prayer’s origins and development.

Text of the Bedtime Shema in English Translation

(Reprinted with the permission of The Rabbinical Assembly from Siddur Sim Shalom: A Prayerbook for Shabbat, Festivals and Weekdays [1985], pp. 245-249)

Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings sleep to my eyes, slumber to my eyelids. May it be Your will, Lord my God and God of my ancestors, that I lie down in peace and that I arise in peace. Let my sleep be undisturbed by troubling thoughts, bad dreams, and wicked schemes. May I have a night of tranquil slumber. May I awaken to the light of a new day, that my eyes may behold the splendor of Your light. Praised are You, Lord whose glory gives light to the entire world. God is a faithful King. Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Praised be His glorious sovereignty throughout all time. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might. And these words which I command you this day you shall take to heart. You shall diligently teach them to your children. You shall recite them at home and away, morning and night. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, they shall be a symbol above your eyes, and you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your homes and upon your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) Help us, our Father, to lie down in peace; and awaken us to life again, our King. Spread over us Your shelter of peace, guide us with Your good counsel. Save us because of Your mercy. Shield us from enemies and pestilence, from starvation, sword and sorrow. Remove the evil forces that surround us, shelter us in the shadow of Your wings. You, O God, guard us and deliver us. You are a gracious and merciful King. Guard our coming and our going, grant us life and peace, now and always. Praised is the Lord by day and praised by night, praised when we lie down and praised when we rise up. In Your hand are the souls of the living and the dead, the life of every creature, the breath of all flesh. Into Your hand I entrust my spirit: You will redeem me, Lord God of truth. Our God in Heaven, assert the unity of Your rule; affirm Your sovereignty, and reign over us forever. May our eyes behold, our hearts rejoice in, and our souls be glad in our sure deliverance, when it shall be said to Zion: Your god is King. The Lord is King, the Lord was King, the Lord shall be King throughout all time. All sovereignty is Yours; unto all eternity only You reign in glory, only You are King. Praised are You, Lord and glorious King, eternal Ruler over us, and over all creation.
(These biblical verses recall God’s blessings and protection in ancient times:) Then Jacob said: “May the angel who has redeemed me from all harm bless the lads. May they carry on my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac. May they become teeming multitudes upon the earth.” And God said: “If you will listen diligently to the voice of the Lord your God, doing what is right in His sight, heeding His mitzvot and keeping all His laws, then I will not inflict upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I the Lord am your healer.” The angel of the Lord said to Satan: “The Lord rebuke you, Satan. May the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you. Is not this man a brand snatched from the fire?” Behold Solomon carried in his litter — sixty of Israel’s heroes are its escort. All of them are skilled swordsmen, all trained at war, each with his sword at the ready to ward off any danger of the night. May the Lord bless you and guard you. May the Lord show you favor and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you kindness and grant you peace. The Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. I wait for Your deliverance, O Lord. The Lord eternal reigned before the birth of every living thing. When all was made as He ordained, then only He was known as King. When all is ended He will reign alone in awesome majesty. He was, He is, and He will be, glorious in eternity. Peerless and unique is He, with none at all to be compared. Beginningless and endless. His vast dominion is not shared. He is my God, my life’s redeemer, my refuge in distress. My shelter sure, my cup of life, His goodness limitless. I place my spirit in His care, when I wake as when I sleep. God is with me. I shall not fear, body and spirit in His keep.

Bedtime Shema for Young Children in English Translation

(Reprinted with the permission of The Rabbinical Assembly from Siddur Sim Shalom: A Prayerbook for Shabbat, Festivals and Weekdays [1985], p. 249)

Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Praised is the Lord by day and praised by night, praised when we lie down and praised when we rise up. I place my spirit in His care, when I wake as when I sleep. God is with me, I shall not fear, body and spirit in His keep.

Talmudic Sources for the Bedtime Shema

The source of the bedtime Shema can be found in the Talmud, where Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asserts that one should recite the Shema before bed, even though it was also recited with the evening prayers (Berakhot 4b). In explaining the biblical source of the practice, Rav Assi brings a verse from the book of Psalms, “So tremble, and sin no more; ponder it on your bed, and sigh” (Psalms 4:5).

Night was considered a time of vulnerability, when one’s soul returned to God. In attempting to understand the motivation for saying the Shema at this time, Rav Yitzchak asserts, “If one recites the Shema before bed, demons are kept away from him” (Berakhot 5a). The general consensus of the rabbis from the time of the Talmud to the time of the halakhic (legal) codes is that reciting this Shema offers not only praise of God, but a request of God’s protection from dangers and demons that may emerge at night.

During the Geonic Period, the siddur (prayerbook) of ninth-century Rav Amram Gaon records that one should recite a significantly longer liturgy rather than simply the first line of the Shema. This longer form became the basis for the traditional bedtime Shema still used today. However, when discussing the nature of Kriat Shema al Hamitah, Rav states a person can simply recite the first line of the Shema and fulfill the obligation for the entire Bedtime Shema (Berakhot 13b), and this has become a popular practice.

Liturgical Selections

The extended version of the bedtime Shema is composed of a combination of selections from daily prayers, particularly from the Ma’ariv service, interspersed with biblical verses and other prescribed liturgies. Many of the passages recited are taken from the commentaries on the bedtime Shema in the Talmud.

Following an introductory passage where one informs God that he or she will forgive anyone who has wronged that person during the day, the prayer begins with a blessing ordained by the rabbis of the Talmud, Birkat HaMapil, or the blessing of the one who brings one down to sleep. The prayer states, “Praised are You, Adonai our God, who rules the universe, bringing sleep to my eyes and slumber to my eyelids” (Berakhot 60b). It also asks God to protect the individual so that he or she may “lie down in peace and arrive in peace,” hoping that the next day will bring new light, for God’s “glory gives light to the entire world.”

The middle section begins the traditional first line of the Shema. It is followed by the first full paragraph, known (for its first word) as V’ahavta, followed by other liturgical passages from the Ma’ariv service. These include most of the Hashkiveinu prayer, which asks for protection, as well as parts of from Barukh Adonai L’Olam. The one constant theme among the verses is the notion that God should protect us when rising up and lying down, no doubt bringing attention to the fact that sleep is a transitional state.

Biblical Themes in the Bedtime Shema

The final piece of the bedtime Shema contains a series of biblical verses that plead for God’s blessing and protection. Most notable is Jacob’s blessing to his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe, “May the angel who has redeemed me from harm, bless these boys. May they carry on my name and thus name of my ancestors, Abraham and Isaac. May they spread far and wide upon the earth” (Genesis 48:16).

Other biblical verses offer a similar hope for God’s protection in a moment of weakness. The section concludes with a series of verses recited three times each, including the traditional priestly blessing that is also used in the parents’ blessing for their children on Shabbat evening (Numbers 6:24-26).

Following the major portions of the bedtime Shema, the liturgy concludes with Adon Olam, commonly known for its recitation at the end of synagogue services. This addition is not found in the earliest texts of the bedtime Shema, but German rabbi and historian Ismar Elbogen concluded that Adon Olam was an older nighttime prayer. Its last line sums up the theme found throughout the bedtime Shema: “When I sleep, as when I wake, God is with me; I have no fear.

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