Image: A mother swan protects her young with her wings. (mrsbrown/pixabay)
Cause us to lie down to peace, Adonai our God, and raise us up to life, our Protector. Spread over us the shelter of your peace. Direct us with good advice before You, and save us for the sake of your Name. Watch out for us, and keep enemies, plagues, swords, famines, and troubles from our midst, and remove the Adversary from in front of us and from behind us.
Cradle us in the shadow of your wings, for You are God who guards us and saves us. For You are God, our gracious and merciful Protector. Guard our departure and our arrival to life and to peace, from now and ever more. – translation from the Ma’ariv service, in the Siddur
Hashkiveinu (hash-kee-VAY-noo) is one of the most beloved prayers of the evening service. It goes back to ancient times, when sleep was poorly understood. The sages believed that sleep was 1/60th of death (Berakhot 57a.) Moreover, a sleeping person is vulnerable to attack – even if we don’t die then, bad things can happen. Thus the custom developed of bedtime prayers.
Hashkiveinu (“Cause us to lie down”) is a beautiful prayer with melodious Hebrew. Notice all its requests:
- that we may have peaceful sleep
- that we may live to wake
- that we may hear good advice in our sleep
- deliver us from enemies and other bad things
Notice, too, the lovely images for Divine protection, which give us concrete images to hold as we go to sleep:
- “shelter of peace” – literally a “sukkah of peace”
- “Cradle us in the shadow of your wings”
It echoes the images in Psalm 91 of the safe shelter and the protecting mother bird:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. – Psalm 91:1-6
Cantors and musicians have written many beautiful settings for Hashkiveinu. One of my favorites is Craig Taubman’s from Friday Night Live:
If you search YouTube.com, you’ll find recordings of many other musical settings. If you have trouble sleeping, try playing one of them a few times, thinking about the words as you listen.