I cannot count how many times in the last week I have remarked that I wish I could have slept in longer. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard friends laud their schedules when they don’t have any classes that begin before ten in the morning. And, yes, I have some friends that sleep well into the afternoon–and on some days, I do, too.
It’s all for an obvious reason: Sleep is a good thing.
But maybe it’s not.
3.14 Rabbi Dosa ben Harcinas taught:
Morning sleep, midday wine,
loafing in the meeting places of the vulgar–
All these will ruin a person’s life.
It’s highly interesting to me that these admonitions are just that–admonitions. Instead of giving us directions to build up a person’s life, Rabbi Dosa has given us the ingredients of tearing our lives down. This is a list of things to avoid, although it lacks a complement telling us what we should do. We must then proceed via conjecture: In order to figure out what we should do, we must ask ourselves why we shouldn’t do any of these things.
I’ll start with morning sleep. Sleep is an essential part of life, and without sleep, people are prone to be lackluster and unenthusiastic. With sleep, we are more alert, energetic, and able to withstand the many illnesses of modern life. Of course, Rabbi Dosa hardly lived in modern life–and I’d go so far as to say that’s one reason why this teaching is so pertinent: Because in Dosa’s time, wasting morning hours was wasting precious time in the sunlight that could have been devoted to other actions not easily conducted in the dark.
Today we have electricity. Darkness vanishes with a flick of a switch. It makes us less aware of the natural rhythms in the world–those natural rhythms that cause other animals to fall and rise with dusk and dawn. Today sleeping in the morning might not be all that bad, unless our problem is in fact staying awake at night.
This is something I also struggle with. It’s remarkably easy to stay awake and do one more thing, one more math problem or another essay or just read some or play a video game for fun. It’s easy not to sleep when I’m still wound up from the day and brooding about all the things that need to be done tomorrow–or before tomorrow that haven’t been done today. Stress leads to insomnia leads to the wish, when I have finally fallen under, to not need to wake again.
Yet I do.
And so should you–because waking in the morning allows you to gain the necessary sunlight required for your body to work properly. Yes, lights often keep us up at night, but healthier practices would arise if we turned off those bedside lamps a little sooner and rose a little sooner as well. We might not all be morning people–but maybe that’s something we should all change if we don’t want to ruin our lives.
Then again, if the warning was about wasting precious sunlight, that can be alleviated with modern methods. However, I still believe we could all become healthier and more productive if we worked alongside sunlight as opposed to living against it. We are diurnal, after all, no matter how much late-night television might try to change that.
Next we were warned against midday wine. I need not go into the many disastrous effects of alcohol, since I think there are plenty of other sources that do a better job than I do, but there is still something of importance that should be addressed here: The warning is not against wine, but against midday wine.
Obviously, the message is one should not drink during the day, but still we ask, why? I believe this is somehow inherently connected to the reasoning of the first admonition–that doing so will cause us to lose productivity where otherwise we should have great potential. Drinking during the day inebriates and impairs us, preventing us from making further accomplishments until we have sufficiently sobered up. Just as sleeping in the morning wastes sunlit hours, so does drinking too early. If instead we act productively during the day, we can pursue some wine in the evening, when all that’s left to accomplish is falling asleep.
(I’m not saying we should use wine to fall asleep–but if we do drink, we should drink last in the day so as to not inhibit us from accomplishing the other things we must tend to first.)
Third came the warning against children’s prattle–but what, exactly, is children’s prattle? Prattle is mindless, foolish bantering, needless chattering, and so on. And children’s prattle, well, I can assume he means talking–perhaps even behaving–as children when we are not children. In other words, Rabbi Dosa is telling us to act our age and to behave like adults. Don’t get into petty arguments like children would; don’t talk foolishly or chat on and on with no point or meaning in your words. For, as we have seen, doing so is wasteful.
A waste of what? A waste of intelligence, a waste of time spent doing something of value, a waste of oxygen if we wish to take it that far. Does this mean small talk ruins our lives? No, I suppose not, but spending time chattering like children when adult matters require tending to will, indeed, ruin our lives. We cannot escape our responsibilities; instead we must face them and conquer them, then we can go on as we wish.
Finally, we are warned against “loafing in the meeting places of the vulgar.” Now, this, too, seems like obvious advice, but sometimes we fail to realize a crowd’s true nature until it’s too late–and then we need that reminder to remove ourselves from their presence. We may make excuses because we think these people are “our friends,” but if they’re not good people, they do not deserve as much time as we might be giving them, and if that’s the case, we should change things.
Or maybe the problem is just loafing–so don’t loaf. There are better ways to spend your time.
Regardless, I find it interesting how Rabbi Dosa phrased his teaching. Instead of telling us what we should do, he told us what we shouldn’t do–and maybe there’s a reason for that. We can deduce from observation that the same bad things will oftentimes pull down even very different people, but the same good things may not equally uplift everybody. I enjoy reading; some people would shove a shiv through their veins if forced to endure even another word. So perhaps in warning against what we all shouldn’t do, Dosa has also taught us what we each should do will be different and it’s therefore important to find our unique path and follow it.
When we’re on the right path, it doesn’t matter what might lead us astray because we’re already passionately moving forward. And that’s what matters most.