Question: Many people stay awake Shavuot night and learn Torah. Is this proper considering that one’s davening the next morning may lack kavannah as a result? Wouldn’t it make more sense to get a good night’s sleep and then learn with more fervor the next day?
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Answer: Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, rosh Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim (She’eilat Shlomo 1:26-27, 222 ), discusses this matter at length. The Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 494), citing the Zohar, notes that the custom of learning all night on Shavuot is an attempt to rectify our misdeed at Mt. Sinai. When Hashem “arrived” to give us the Torah, we were sleeping and had to be woken up. We therefore stay awake all night nowadays, spiritually rectifying this sin and showing our zeal for Torah.
Rabbi Aviner cautions, though, that one should take into account that staying awake all night may hurt one’s kavannah during Shacharit. If it will, it is far better not to stay awake. Davening with proper concentration is more important than staying up all night since tefillah is a time-related obligation. Rabbi Aviner cites the Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 619:11) who makes this same point regarding the custom of staying up all night on Yom Kippur. The Magen Avraham writes that one shouldn’t stay up if it will harm one’s kavannah the next day.
Rabbi Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rav (Uvdot Ve’Hanhagot Le’Beit Brisk vol. 2, p. 79), expressed his surprise that people are so particular to stay awake the entire night of Shavuot – which is only a custom – but are not careful to discuss the Exodus from Egypt on Pesach night until they are overcome by sleep – which is an actual law. Indeed, in the city of Brisk, people were not meticulous to stay up all night on Shavuot. They didn’t see the difference between that night and any other night. (One can only imagine the Torah learning of an “ordinary” night in Brisk!) The Brisker Rav also reasoned that learning on Shavuot night is no more important than learning on Shavuot day.
The sefer Ha-Shakdan (vol. 2, p. 240) reports that Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was asked by his grandson why he doesn’t stay awake all night on Shavuot and goes to sleep at his usual time of 2 a.m. Rabbi Elyashiv explained that he calculated that if he changed his routine by foregoing his usual few hours of sleep on Shavuot night, not only would he not gain more learning time, but he would actually lose 15 minutes. He therefore preferred to go to sleep at his usual time.
Each person should carefully consider if it is worthwhile for him to stay up all night since there is the concern that “yatza secharo b’hefseido – the gain is offset by the loss” (Avot 5:11).
Those people who will stay up all night, and whose kavannah will not be harmed, should be aware of some pertinent halachot for Shavuot morning.
Tzitzit: A person who wears tzitzit all night should not recite a new blessing on it in the morning. He should try to hear the blessing from someone who is obligated to recite it or he should have his tzitzit in mind when he recites the blessing over his talit (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 8:16 with Mishnah Berurah sk42).
Netilat Yadayim: A person should wash netilat yadayim without a blessing or hear it from someone who is obligated to recite it (Shulchan Aruch Harav 4:13). Another option, which is preferable, is that one use the restroom and thus become obligated to wash netilat yadayim according to all opinions (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 4:13 with Mishnah Berurah sk27, 29, 30).
Elokai Neshamah and Ha-Ma’avir Sheinah: The former should be recited without its concluding blessing (“hamachazir neshamot…”) and the latter should be recited sans mention of Hashem’s Name. Better yet, if at all possible, these paragraphs should be heard from someone who is obligated to recite them (one who has slept), since these blessings were specifically established as a praise to Hashem for the daily restoration of our souls and the removal of sleep and thus should only be said if one has slept (Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chayim 47:30 and Biur Halachah). If one sleeps even half an hour, one is obligated to recite these blessings (Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chayim 4:34-35 and Biur Halachah s.v “Dovid v’chulu…”).