Question: Many people are accustomed to staying awake Shavuot night and learning Torah. Is this recommended even at the expense of having proper kavanah at Shachris the next morning? Wouldn’t it be far better to get a good night’s rest and then learn with more fervor the next day?
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Answer: Staying up on Shavuot night is an age-old minhag. Even if individuals decide not to stay up, it would be wrong to nullify the minhag for the congregation at large.
Halacha regards community minhagim very seriously. The Mishnah (Berachot 44a) cites the following dispute: A person who drinks water to quench his thirst should say she’hakol nih’yeh bidvaro. R. Tarfon maintains that he should say borei nefashot rabbot. How was this dispute settled? Abaye (some say R. Yosef) said: Look at what the people do.
They looked and noted that it had become the accepted practice to say she’hakol nih’yeh bidvaro before the drink and borei nefashot rabbot after the drink. Thus, we see that a minhag became the accepted halacha.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rosh Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim (Responsa She’eilat Shlomo 1:26-27, 222), discusses the minhag to stay up on Shavuot night at length. He first cites the Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 494 in the name of the Zohar), who explains that this practice is an attempt to rectify the misdeed of the Jewish nation at the time of the giving of the Torah. When Hashem “arrived” to give them the Torah, He found them sleeping. The custom therefore developed to stay awake all night as a spiritual rectification for our fathers having overslept and as a demonstration of our zeal for the Torah.
Yet, Rabbi Aviner cautions, one should take into account that staying awake an entire night might result in a lack of proper kavanah during Shachrit the next morning. If a person believes that staying up will harm his kavanah, he should go to sleep. Davening with proper concentration is more important than staying up all night learning since tefillah is a time-related obligation.
The Magen Avraham (infra. Orach Chayim 619:11) makes the very same point regarding those who customarily stay up all night on Yom Kippur. He warns against adopting this practice if it will result in a lack of proper kavanah during the day’s tefillot.
Rabbi Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rav (Uvdot Ve’Hanhagot Le’Beit Brisk vol. 2, p. 79), expresses his surprise that people are so particular to stay awake the entire night of Shavuot, which is only a custom, but are not so careful on Pesach night to fulfill an actual law to discuss the exodus from Egypt until one is overcome by sleep.
In Brisk, people were actually not meticulous to stay awake the night of Shavuot. They didn’t see Shavuot night as different than any other night. (One can only imagine the Torah learning on an “ordinary” night in Brisk!) The Brisker Rav also reasoned that learning on Shavuot night isn’t more important than learning on Shavuot day.
Sefer HaShakdan (vol. 2, p. 240) records that Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was asked by his grandson why he doesn’t stay awake Shavuot night and instead follows his regular learning schedule of going to sleep and waking up at 2:00 a.m. to learn.
Rabbi Elyashiv explained that he made a calculation and found 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, he would actually lose 15 minutes! So as not to lose even a few precious minutes of learning Torah, he decided that it was preferable to go to sleep at the beginning of the night as per his regular schedule.
Each person should carefully consider if it’s worthwhile for him to stay up all night since there is the concern of “yatza secharo b’hefseido – the gain is offset by the loss” (Avot 5:11). If it is worthwhile, he should be aware of some pertinent halachot:
If he wore tzitzit all night, he shouldn’t recite a blessing on them in the morning. Rather he should try to hear the blessing from someone who’s obligated to recite it or he should have his tzitzit in mind when he recites the blessing over his talit (Mechaber, Orach Chayim 8:16 with Mishnah Berurah, s.k. 42).
One should wash netilat yadayim without a blessing or hear the blessing from someone who’s obligated to recite it (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 4:13). Another, more preferable option is to use the restroom and thus become obligated to say this blessing according to all opinions (Mechaber, Orach Chayim 4:13 with Mishnah Berurah s.k. 27, 29, 30).
As for Elokai Neshamah and HaMa’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 blessings should be heard from someone who’s obligated to recite them since these blessings were established as a way of praising Hashem for the daily restoration of our souls and the removal of sleep (see Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chayim 47:30 and Biur Halachah).
If one sleeps even half an hour, the obligation to recite these blessings applies (Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chayim 4:34-35 and Biur Halacha s.v “Dovid v’chulu…”).
Even if a person is very tired, he should say the berachah of ha’noten le’ya’ef koach (He has given the weary renewed vigor) since this blessing isn’t said over a person’s individual state but as a general praise of Hashem who created His world which includes the removal of tiredness (Mechaber, Orach Chayim 46 with Mishnah Berurah #22 and Mechaber, Orach Chayim 47 with Mishnah Berurah #28). Chasidim recite all the morning blessings even if they remain awake all night (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 47:7 and Siddur Chabad).
Poskim disagree about reciting Birkat HaTorah. One option is to say the following before saying these blessings the morning of Erev Shavuot: “the blessings that I’m saying now should cover the following day as well.” Of course the other option is to hear the blessings from someone who slept with both the reciter and the listener having in mind that the blessings apply to both of them (Mechaber, Orach Chayim 47:12 with Mishnah Berurah s.k. 25-28).
If neither of these is possible, one may recite the blessings based on the halachic opinion of the Sha’agat Aryeh (responsa 24-25) that saying these blessings is a biblical mitzvah so in case of doubt, one is strict and says them. This ruling is found in Rav Kook’s commentary to the siddur, Olat Re’eiyah (vol. 1, p. 59 note 5) and in Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s responsa (Yabia Omer, vol. 5, Orach Chayim #6 and Yechaveh Da’at 3:33).
It’s important to note that women are also required to recite the blessings over learning Torah. Since they aren’t obligated to learn Torah, how can they say “Blessed is Hashem…who has made us holy and commanded us to engage in words of Torah”? The Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 47:14) writes that since they’re required to learn the laws that apply to them, they must say this blessing.
The Brisker Rav (Griz, to the Rambam, at the end of Hilchot Berachot, p. 10) and Rav Kook (Orach Mishpat 11, 2) offer a completely different and very novel reason. They explain that these aren’t blessings over performing a mitzvah, but rather blessings of praise. If the Torah hadn’t been given, the world as we know it would be in total darkness, and this darkness would engulf both men and women. Women, therefore, thank Hashem for the Torah’s presence in the world.
May we experience a joyous Yom Tov with a true receiving of the Torah that will lead to the geulah shleimah speedily in our days.