The hibernation of the groundhog holds an important place in American folklore; much less well-known is its possible appearance in rabbinic folklore. According to one major midrashic work, “There are three types of slumber: that of sleep, that of prophecy, and that of marmita.” The Midrash goes on to cite a story in Samuel I in which David sneaks into the camp of his rival, King Saul, while Saul and his men are asleep. David then steals the king’s spear and water jug and sneaks out. According to the Midrash, Saul and his comrades were lost in the “slumber of the marmita.” Natan Slifkin explains:
The slumber of the mysterious marmita is the deepest type of sleep—but what is a marmita?
Opinions vary. But several opinions . . . argue that it is the animal known in Europe as the marmot, which is known to North Americans as the groundhog. Marmots enter a deep hibernation during the cold winter; their heartbeat slows to around five beats a minute, while they take only one to three breaths a minute. The Midrash says that such a deep sleep was placed upon Saul’s camp by God, so that David was able to steal in and out undetected. Nobody in Saul’s camp woke up; it was as though time itself was frozen.