By Rabbi Elli Bohm
Reviewed by Harav Yisroel Belsky
Staying Awake to Learn on Shavuos Night
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The Zohar HaKadosh writes that there is a minhag to stay awake and learn Torah the entire night of Shavuos night. By remaining awake Shavuos night, we are attempting to rectify that which we neglected to arise early the morning of Matan Torah, and the fact that Hashem had to wake us up Himself. The Arizal writes that one who stays awake to learn Torah on the night of Shavuos is guaranteed that he will survive that year and that he will not be harmed in any way.
Saying Tikun Leil Shavuos
Many people have the custom to recite tikun leil shavuos. This custom dates back to the Arizal. The Chida wonders why there are people who do not recite the tikun, since the Beis Yosef and many other gedolim did recite it. There is a well known story about the Dubner Maggid who once went to his Rebbe for Shavuos. On Shavuos night his Rebbe sat down and began reciting the tikun, while the Dubner Maggid sat down to learn. Seeing this, his Rebbe asked him why he wasn’t reciting the tikun. The Dubner Maggid answered with a parable. A man who had been supplying his son-in-law with ‘kest’ (free room and board and additional support), refused to continue doing so and told the young man that it was time for him to earn a living on his own. When the son-in-law asked his father-in-law how he should go about earning a living, he told him to go out into the market and observe how the other merchants are conducting their businesses and do the same. The son-in-law went into the market and saw stores with signs above their doors advertising their merchandise. He then went and rented a store, placed as many signs as possible above the doors, and placed samples in the front window. However, he did not stock any merchandise. When the father-in-law noticed what his son-in-law had done, he scolded him. “You fool”, he said. “A sign is only an advertisement for the merchandise in the store, but if you have no merchandise than there is no point in hanging signs and samples in front of the store.” The Dubner Maggid concluded by explaining that the same idea applies here. Since the tikun is only the first and last part of every parsha and Mishnah, it is like a sign advertising merchandise. Therefore, he said, “Since you Rebbe have the entire Torah inside of you and have something worth advertising, you can show a sign or a symbol of your knowledge by saying the tikun. I, on the other hand, have no Torah inside of me. My store is empty, and I have no need for a sign. Therefore, I must sit down and learn, to accumulate as much merchandise as possible.”
Therefore, one who follows the minhag to say tikkun, should continue saying it. One who does not follow that minhag, should spend the time learning. Whichever minhag one follows, one should utilize his time learning Torah, and not waste any of the precious time.
Whenever one learns, one should actively pronounce the words he is learning and not merely read them with his eyes. Some poskim say that one does not fulfill the mitzvah of limud hatorah adequately if one only reads the words. However, one who is thinking in learning, and will not be able to think as well if he pronounces the words, is not required to do so. One who does not pronounce the words aloud as he is learning will forget his learning quicker. All poskim agree that one who hears someone else say words of Torah fulfills the mitzvah of limud hatorah. One should preferably learn in a beis medrash, for one who learns in a beis medrash will retain that which he has learned much longer. One who learns with modesty and humility will become smarter and will grow in learning.
The Chofetz Chaim maintained that one is obligated to repeat whatever Torah he learns four times. The Steipler Gaon considered the first four times one learns something as ‘limud‘. ‘Chazarah’ refers to the additional times that one learns after having completed the first four. Until one learns something four times, he will not fully comprehend the topic that is being learned.
The Chazon Ish maintains that one who wants to have hatzlacha in his learning should be careful with regard to three things. 1) One should be careful with regard to the halachos of netilas yodayim (which are discussed in או”ח סי’ ד’ סעי’ ח’). 2) One should say the Yehi Ratzon (printed in the beginning of many Gemaras) every day before learning. (The Rambam considers saying this Yehi Ratzon an obligation). 3) One should not lie under any circumstance.
The Vilna Gaon writes that every word of Torah one learns during the week fulfills another mitzvah. In addition, it is said that the Chofetz Chaim stated that every word of Torah one learns on Shabbos is equivalent to the 613 mitzvos.
The Morning Brachos One May Say After Remaining Awake
One who stays awake an entire night may not be permitted to recite all the birchos hashachar on the following morning. One reason for this is because several of the birchos hashachar are associated with one’s sleep. Another reason is because by sleeping, one interrupts the blessing recited the previous day, thereby necessitating a new bracha for the next day. If one did not sleep, then several of the birchos hashachar he made the previous day are still in effect. Of the 21 brachos that comprise birchos hashachar, five present a halachic difficulty for one who stays awake all night.
A. Al Netilas Yodayim
There is a machlokes among the Rishonim as to why one washes his hands and recites the bracha of al netilas yodayim every morning. The Rashba is of the opinion that since a person is considered a ‘new person’ each morning, he must purify himself anew in preparation to serve Hashem. In this aspect, he is similar to a kohen who would wash his hands from the kiyor prior to performing the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash. However, the Rosh maintains that the reason for washing one’s hands is because while one sleeps, one’s hands normally move around and will most probably touch some uncovered part of one’s body. Therefore, Chazal require one to wash his hands prior to reciting krias shema or davening. (Another reason why one washes his hands is because of a ruach rah that overcomes one’s entire body during the night, and when one arises in the morning, the ruach rah leaves one’s body and only remains on one’s fingertips. However, this reason alone would not warrant a bracha, since one does not recite a bracha on an act which is performed to ward off danger).
Therefore, according to the Rosh, one who stays up all night would not be required to make a bracha or wash his hands, since there is no suspicion that he may have touched an uncovered part of his body being that he stayed awake. However, according to the Rashba, even one who stayed up all night is required to wash his hands and recite a bracha. The reason for this is because although one who remained awake all night is not considered a ‘new’ person in the morning, nevertheless, the bracha was established to reflect on the world as a whole, which is renewed each morning.
Based on this machlokes, the Rama rules that one should be stringent and wash his hands in deference to the Rashba‘s opinion, but no bracha is recited since this issue remains unresolved. Many poskim argue with the Rama, and maintain that a bracha is recited. The Mishnah Berurah therefore paskens that in order to be required to recite a bracha according to all opinions, one should go to the bathroom shortly after alos hashachar, and wash his hands. One would then be permitted to recite the brachos of al netilas yodayim and asher yotzar according to all opinions.
B. Birchas Hatorah
The poskim dispute whether one who remains awake all night is required to recite birchas hatorah on the following morning. Some poskim maintain that the bracha from the previous morning remains in effect, since there was no significant interruption such as a significant amount of sleep. However, other poskim maintain that one should recite the bracha every morning, regardless of whether one slept the previous night or not. R’ Akiva Eiger held that one who slept during the previous day on his bed in a permanent fashion (i.e. as many people do on Erev Shevous) should recite the birchas hatorah on the following morning, even if he did not sleep the entire night. (The bracha of ahavas olamsaid by Maariv will not suffice as birchas hatorah for one who slept during the day, if he did not learn immediately after davening). In order for one to avoid this machlokes, one who did not sleep should find someone who did sleep to be motzie him. After hearing the brachos from someone else, those being yotze should recite the passages of Torah and Mishnah printed in the siddurim, so that the birchas hatorah are followed by learning.
One who cannot resolve this query with any of the above options should concentrate during ahavah rabbah, having in mind that it should be considered his birchas hatorah. One who follows this method should learn something immediately after finishing davening. One who was not yotze birchas hatorah and went to sleep after davening Shacharis, may recite it himself when he awakens.
Some poskim say that one who is learning does not have to stop doing so once alos hashachar arrives, and may continue learning even though he has not heard birchas hatorah from someone else. After one finishes learning, he should listen to birchos hatorah.
C. Elokai Neshamah and Hamavir Shainah
There is also a dispute among the poskim whether one who remains awake all night can recite the brachos of elokai neshamah and hamavir shainah the following morning. Therefore, one should preferably find someone to be motzie him.
One should find someone to be motzie him with the bracha on tzitzis. One who took off his tzitzis prior to going to sleep after Shacharis, may recite the bracha on them when he awakens then put them back on.
One may recite the other sixteen brachos of birchas hashachar himself, regardless of whether one slept or not. It is important to note that one who is fulfilling his obligation by listening to another person recite the bracha must pay close attention to every word being said. Furthermore, some poskim hold that one may only be yotze these sixteen brachos by hearing them from another person, if there is a minyan present. The reason for this is because one can technically discharge his own obligation by reciting them himself. Therefore, if there is a chance that one may not hear every word being said, he should say these brachos himself, even if there is a minyan present.
CLICK HERE to download or print this full Halacha Berurah article in its original format as a pdf file including its extensive footnotes.