Year of the Squirrel

December 28th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

What happens if you extract a little blood from a hibernating ground squirrel, preserve it till the summer and inject it into another squirrel?  That active little mammal with his bushy tail will instantly go into hibernation.

 We don’t clearly understand if cold weather sets off the chemical changes in squirrel blood that signals hibernation time. We do know that hibernation helps animals endure the winter because hibernating bodies require only a tiny percentage of the energy needed when awake.  Hibernation is a state in which animals’ body metabolism and heart rate slow down so dramatically that they can easily last the winter on their accumulated fat. However, their brain activity remains pretty much the same as when they’re awake. 

 We humans don’t hibernate but we do sleep.  When we sleep our metabolism hardly changes and our energy needs drop by only about 5%. However, our brain activity vastly changes from our waking brain wave patterns.  I think one could say that hibernation chiefly affects the body while sleep also affects the brain.

 In the Lord’s language, Hebrew, the word for sleep is exactly the same as the word for year.


Do not love sleep lest you become impoverished…

(Proverbs 20:13)


And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years

(Genesis 5:3)



That Hebrew word also has two other meanings; ‘repeat’ and ‘change.’


Amasa was not vigilant about the sword in Yoav’s hand and he

struck him with it into his fifth rib and he spilled his innards onto the ground;he did not repeat (the blow) and he (Amasa) died.

(II Samuel 20:10)


I will not desecrate my covenant and I will not change the utterance of my lips.

(Psalms 89:35)


How strange is that?   Repeat means doing the same thing again, while change means doing something different. What message is God giving us through the way His language links these two opposite concepts along with year and sleep?


The potential trap for us is allowing each day or year to be nothing but a repetition of the one before.  Animals hibernate to cope with the wintery problems of the present and in the spring they awake to continue exactly what they were doing in the fall. They endlessly repeat past years’ activities.


We have a choice. We can be animal-like and do the same. We can view sleep as nothing more than a human version of hibernation with the focus on the biological component.   We can see a new year as simply a calendar fact. New Year’s Eve partying can serve as an attempt to camouflage the dreary passage of time and the gloomy likelihood that the coming year will repeat the mistakes of the one fading away. 


Alternatively, we can see how different we are from animals and that every single day we are blessed with the ability to start anew and bring about refreshing changes that improve our lives. We can awake each morning with a smile on our faces, a prayer on our lips, and hope and happiness in our hearts as we embrace the day. Each sleep can herald new resolutions of change, growth, and improvement just as each new yearly cycle should so the same.


Each evening, we can set an agenda to make the next day somewhat better than the one before. Instead of treating the night of December 31st as another meaningless party, we can contemplate ways to change in the coming year.  Quiet thought will quickly produce a list of important changes that will make our 2011 better than 2010


We can pick from two contrasting equations.


Sleep = year = repeat


  Sleep = year = change.


Since we are not animals, the choice is ours to make.




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One comment

patricia bossert says:

I love you and Susan, Rabbi. I watch you on TCT and am always enlightened by your ancient Jewish wisdom. Friends of mine recently caught your tv program and were thrilled by your presentation. Toda raba. Baruch Hashem. Baruch you too!


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