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Staying Up Most of the Night

I. Learning & Sleeping

On Shavuos, many stay up all night learning Torah and go to sleep after early morning services. This year, when the holiday followed Shabbos, most people had time to rest before the learning marathon. Other years, some of us rush from a full day of work straight into the holiday. In those years, staying up all night is more of a challenge? What if you can’t make it through the night?

Rav Asher Weiss (Responsa Minchas Asher, vol. 2 no. 6) addresses the proper approach to prayer on Shavuos morning after studying Torah throughout the night. Some people are so exhausted that they can barely pray, much less with deep intent. Should they go to sleep and wake up for later services? Is this even allowed? Normally you are not allowed to go to sleep when the time for a mitzvah approaches (generally within half an hour of the beginning time for that mitzvah). If so, within half an hour of dawn, you should not be allowed to go to sleep even if you plan to pray later.

II. Napping and Sleeping

Rav Weiss quotes Rav Ya’akov Emden (Siddur) as forbidding taking a nap within half an hour of the time for the afternoon mincha prayers. In contrast, Rav Yitzchak Isaac Chaver (Responsa Binyan Olam, no. 1) permits afternoon naps. He distinguishes between daytime naps, which are short, and nighttime sleeping, which are long. There is little danger that a nap before mincha time will prevent you from praying. However, a fully night’s worth of sleep can last the whole time for morning prayers, preventing you from fulfilling the mitzvah. Therefore, Rav Chaver permits daytime naps but forbids someone who stayed up all night from sleeping before his morning prayers.

The Siddur Ha-Gra (by Rav Yitzchak Moltzen) quotes Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin and Rav Shmuel Salant as saying that someone who wakes up in the morning after sunrise but before his normal time for waking up may not stay in bed and go back to sleep. He is obligated to pray and may not avoid this obligation by going back to sleep. However, the Chazon Ish (Dinim Ve-Hanhagos 4:13) says that you may go back to sleep. Rav Weiss quotes all this and adds that in his opinion you obviously may return to sleep. We find no mention of this prohibition in any early source. Why would we be concerned that you won’t wake up at your regular time just because you woke up earlier also?

III. Reawakening

Similarly, continues Rav Weiss, if you have an alarm clock that normally wakes you up, you may go to sleep after sunrise and rely on the clock to wake you up for services. While Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach did not allow use of an alarm clock in the place of a person, Rav Weiss disagrees. Whatever works for you suffices.

Regarding Shavuos, Rav Weiss says that a man’s wife or children can be trusted to wake him up for morning prayers. Even if you don’t ask them, if that is their regular practice then you can assume they will do it in Shavuos also. Therefore, you may go to sleep after learning all night and then wake up for the later services.

IV. Learning Through Shavuos Night

Rav Weiss adds that the custom of learning throughout Shavuos night comes from the Zohar (Emor) which specifically mentions the entire night. Therefore, Rav Weiss recommends that someone who gets too tire to pray should learn until after sunrise, go to sleep, and wake up for services later. However, he points out that the Seder Ha-Yom says that you should learn on Shavuos the entire night or most of it. Based on this, Rav Weiss recommends to people who are old and weak that they should learn Torah until after midnight, at which point the majority of the night has passed.

I find Rav Weiss’ reasoning difficult. Yes, if I go to sleep at a normal hour then my wife, children or alarm clock can wake me at my normal hour or a little later. But if I am up all night and only go to bed at 4:30 or 5am, nothing will wake me up in time to get to synagogue by 9am. What works for me in a normal situation will not work for me in that highly unusual circumstance.

Maybe Rav Weiss can function on such little sleep–maybe most people can–but I can’t. But as Rav Weiss wrote, if it works for you then feel free to do it.