Bedtime Shema

Asking God for peace and protection in this evening prayer.

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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’ahavtah, 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

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 Menasheh, "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 historianIsmar 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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Joshua Rabin

Rabbi Joshua Rabin is the Director of Kehilla Enrichment at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. He received his Rabbinic Ordination and an MA in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2011, where he served two terms as student president of the Rabbinical School. Josh lives on the Upper West Side with his wife, Yael, and their daughter, Hannah.