What is the Bedtime Shema?

Image: A sleeping calico kitten (analogicus/pixabay)

The words of the Shema tell us to “say these words when you lie down and when you rise up.” That is one of the reasons we have evening services [Ma’ariv] and morning services [Shacharit.]

However, there is a tradition that I have revived in my own practice and which I would like to share with you: that’s the tradition for saying the Shema at bedtime, just before sleep. So many of us are starved for sleep, and having trouble falling asleep: why not give this ancient practice a try?

You can find the text of the Bedtime Shema in most siddurim [prayer books,] and it is available online in English at MyJewishLearning.com. If you want the text in Hebrew, it is available at Sefaria.org. Alternatively, I offer a simplified version of it here:

Blessed are you, Eternal our God, Ruler of time and space, who brings sleep to my eyes and slumber to my eyelids. Banish bad dreams and worries. I hereby release unworthy thoughts and grudges from my heart. Help me to lie down in peace, and rise up in the morning, renewed, ready to do Your work in the world.

Shema Yisrael! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad.

Hear O Israel! Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.

Then I repeat the last line again and again in my mind, aligning it with my breath, as I drift off to sleep. Sweet dreams!