11 May HALACHICALLY SPEAKING: REMAINING AWAKE ON SHAVUOS NIGHT
There is a widespread custom to remain awake on Shavuos night to learn Torah. This custom spawns many halachic queries. Why should we stay up learning on Shavuos night? What should be learned? Should one learn the tikun leil Shavuos? How do we deal with washing hands, birchas hashachar, birchas hatorah, and other halachos which can come up on this wonderful night?
Remaining Awake and Reasons
It is the custom of most of klal yisroel to remain awake the entire night of Shavuos and learn Torah. One reason is that klal yisroel were sleeping the night before the acceptance of the Torah, and Hashem had to awake them in order to accept the Torah. Therefore, we have to rectify that by remaining awake. Some say that one who stays awake on Shavuos night and learns Torah the entire time is guaranteed that he will live out his year and suffer no harm. Others guarantee a blessing for children who are scholarly and other benefits. Some say that one should be careful and not sleep even a bit at night. Many say that it is very beneficial to nap on Erev Shavuos in order to remain awake on Shavuos night. In order to learn the most time possible, one should go to the bais medrash immediately after the seuda.
Staying Awake Part of the Night
Although many have the custom to remain awake the night of Shavuos, many do not have the strength to do so. The same is true for people who feel that if they are awake all night, they will not daven properly. The opinion of the poskim is that there is a point in staying up and learning any amount of time that one can on the night of Shavuos. If it is possible one should try to remain awake at least most of the night, or at least until chatzos. Those who cannot daven properly without a proper amount of sleep do not have to remain awake on Shavuos night. Some say that even if one will be able to learn more hours by day, he should still remain awake on Shavuos night.
There is no need for a child to remain awake the entire Shavuos night, but if he wishes to do so he may. Children who disturb the adults from learning should not be brought to shul.
Since remaining awake the entire night is of extreme importance, one should be careful not to sit idly around and engage in mindless chitchat or frivolity. One who does so would be better off to go to sleep. The learning should be done with great joy.
Second Night – Chutz L’aretz
Some poskim bring the custom to remain awake learning Torah the second night of Shavuos as well as the first. Some explain that there is an opinion that holds the Torah was given on the seventh day of Sivan. The custom of most people is to only remain awake the first night, but one should still learn a bit on the second night.
Tikun Leil Shavuos or Other Topics
The custom of many people is to recite tikun leil Shavuos on the night of Shavuos. There are many reasons given for this.
There is a well-known story involving the Dubner Maggid and his rebbe the G’ra. On Shavuos night, the G’ra recited the tikun leil Shavuos, and the Dubner Maggid started learning other things. The Gr’a asked him, “Why are you not reciting the tikun?” True to form, the Dubner Maggid responded with a parable. “There was once a young married boy who was not learning. His father in-law decided not to support him anymore, and told him to go to work. The son-in-law asked him how he is supposed to earn a living. The father-in-law advised him go to other merchants to see how they sell their goods, and you should do the same. The son-in-law went to the market and saw signs hanging on top of the stores advertising their wares. He hung signs at his own establishment, but did not stock merchandise in the store. The father-in-law said, “You fool! This is not how you sell merchandise. If you only have a sign then you will not make any money.” The tikun only contains the first and last part of every parsha and Mishnah; it is like a sign which advertises merchandise. Since you (the Rebbe) have the entire Torah inside you can learn the tikun and show a sample of the Torah that you have. I have no Torah inside me. Therefore, I need to learn to get as much merchandise as possible”.
Some say the tikun should be said with a minyan; however, others say the custom is that each one says it himself. Some say the tikun was made for people who do not know how to learn. Many people do not learn the tikun leil Shavuos but learn whatever their heart desires. Those who have the custom to say the tikun should do so before learning other things. One should keep his custom regarding saying the tikun. Some say that one should make Torah Sheba’al Peh his main focus on the night of Shavuos.
Halachos Applicable Throughout the Night
Drinking Coffee –Many people drink coffee or tea in order to remain awake during the night. When making a beracha on the first cup he should have in mind that this beracha will exempt any other beverage that he will drink throughout the night (in the same bais
medrash), and at the end of the night one should drink a shiur that would require a beracha achrona (approx 3.5 ounces). Others say that one should recite a boreh nefashos after each cup (if one drank enough coffee in the allotted time) and recite another beracha on any additional coffee or tea. The custom of most people is like the first opinion.
Eating and Drinking Until When?
The Gemorah prohibits eating and drinking before davening based on a posuk which states, “You shall not eat over the blood.” One of the interpretations given for this is that one should not eat before davening for his blood. The Gemorah further states that eating and drinking before reciting krias shema is an act of haughtiness. Tending to one’s own physical well being before fulfilling his obligation to declare malchus shomayim is tantamount to declaring that Hashem’s sovereignty over the world is secondary.
The prohibition of eating and drinking starts from a half-hour before alos hashachar. If one began to eat before this time, he may continue until alos hashachar. Some are of the opinion that one should not eat if he awoke after chatzos, unless it is necessary for tefilla. Drinking is permitted according to this view until alos hashachar.
The minhag does not seem to be in accordance with this opinion, and one may eat after chatzos.
Learning Mikra at Night
Many people get tired of learning Gemorah all night and want to learn portions of the Torah. Is this permitted?
The Medrash says that Moshe Rabbeinu knew it was day when Hashem taught him mikra and knew it was night when Hashem taught him the Mishnah and Gemorah. Some say we see from here that one should not read mikra at night. Additionally, based on the writings of kabbalah, one should not say mikra at night. Some say the reason is because learning mikrah at night arouses the midah of din. One who does read mikrah at night did not do any issur. If one read the pesukim with targum there is certainly no problem.
Many poskim say that reading tehillim is permitted and is not included in this inyan at all. Others only permit this after chatzos. Some say that it is permitted to read a posuk for rachamim (and not limud).
It is permitted to be maaver sedra at night if one reads a commentary with the pesukim. A chumash shiur may be given at night since one is explaining the words and not just reading them. Reciting pesukim at a vacht nacht is permitted. One may say mikrah on leil Shabbos, Motzei Shabbos, leil Yom Tov, leil Chol Hamoed, and leil Yom Kippur. One is permitted to recite pesukim which are customarily recited at krias shema al hamittah since they have to do with the nighttime. A ba’al koreh may prepare for laining at night. One who has a seder halimud every day in t’nach and did not finish learning before night may finish the seder at night. Some permit saying mikra during bein ha’shmashos.
Learning without a Chavrusa
Most people prefer to learn with a chavrusa all night long on Shavuos night, while others learn alone. The Gemorah says that one should not learn alone. This concept is brought in halacha as well. Some say that this applies only when there were no seforim or commentaries to help in understanding the Gemorah. However, since today there are many seforim and commentaries, there is nothing wrong with learning alone. One who will learn better without a chavrusa is permitted to learn alone. In Eretz Yisroel one can learn alone according to all opinions because the air of Eretz Yisroel makes a person smart.