Selected Halachos Relating to Parshas Bamidbar - Shavuos
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
BIRCHOS HA-SHACHAR ON SHAVUOS MORNING
The widespread custom of staying awake the first night of
Shavuos to study Torah presents a halachic problem - what to do
about four of the morning blessings, Birchos ha-shachar, which
cannot be recited unless one slept during the night. The other
sixteen blessings may be recited as usual(1), but the following
four blessings present a problem:
AL NETILAS YADAYIM - The Rishonim offer two basic reasons for
the Talmudic law(2) of washing our hands in the morning and then
reciting the proper blessing:
The Rosh tells us that washing is necessary because a person's
hands move around in his sleep and will inevitably touch some
unclean part of the body.
The Rashba says that since each one of us becomes a biryah
chadashah - a "new person" - each morning, we must sanctify
ourselves anew in preparation to serve Hashem. This
sanctification is similar to that of a kohen who washes his
hands before performing the avodah in the Beis ha-Mikdash.
[In addition to these two reasons, there is still another reason
for washing one's hands in the morning - because of ruach
ra'ah, the spirit of impurity that rests on one's body at night
and does not leave the hands until water is poured over them
three times(3). Indeed, touching various limbs or organs of the
body is prohibited before hand-washing, due to the danger which
is brought about by the spirit of impurity(4). This third reason
alone, however, is insufficient to warrant a blessing(5), since
a blessing is never recited on an act which is performed in
order to ward off danger(6).]
Does one who remains awake all night long need to wash his
hands in the morning? If we follow the Rosh's reason, then
washing is not necessary, for as long as one remains awake he
knows that his hands remained clean. If we follow the Rashba's
reason, however, washing may be required, since in the morning
one becomes a "new person," whether he slept or not(7). [In
addition, it is debatable if the spirit of impurity that rests
on the hands is caused by the nighttime hours - regardless of
whether or not one slept - or if it rests upon the hands only
Since this issue remains unresolved, the Rama suggests a
compromise: washing is indeed required, as the Rashba holds, but
a blessing is not recited, in deference to the view of the Rosh.
Not all the poskim agree with the Rama's compromise. In their
view, the blessing should be recited(9). Since we again face a
difference of opinion, it is recommended that one of the
following options be exercised:
Immediately after alos amud hashachar, one should relieve
himself and then wash his hands, followed by Al netilas yadayim
and Asher yatzar. In this case, all poskim agree that washing
is required and a blessing is recited(10). This is the preferred
One should listen - with intent to be yotzei - as another
person, who did sleep, recites the blessing.
BIRCHOS HA-TORAH - The poskim debate whether one who remains
awake the entire night(11) is required to recite Birchos
ha-Torah the next morning. Some authorities do not require it,
since they hold that the previous day's blessings are still
valid. In their view, unless a major interruption - such as a
night's sleep - occurs, yesterday's blessings remain in effect.
Others hold that Birchos ha-Torah must be said each morning
regardless of whether or not one slept, similar to all other
Birchos ha-shachar which are said in the morning, whether one
slept or not. According to the Mishnah Berurah(12), this issue
remains unresolved and the following options are recommended:
One should listen - with intent to be yotzei - as another
person, who did sleep, recites the blessing. This should be
followed by each person reciting yevorechecha and eilu devarim,
so that the blessings are followed immediately by some Torah
While reciting the second blessing before Kerias Shema - Ahavah
Rabbah - one should have the intention to be yotzei Birchos
ha-Torah as well. In this case, he needs to learn some Torah
immediately after Shemoneh Esrei.
There are two other options available:
All poskim agree that if one slept (at least half an hour)
during the day of erev Shavuos, he may recite Birchos ha-Torah
on Shavuos morning even though he did not sleep at all during
While reciting Birchos ha-Torah on erev Shavuos, one may clearly
stipulate that his blessings should be in effect only until the
next morning. In this case, he may recite the blessings on
Shavuos morning although he did not sleep(14).
If one did not avail himself of any of these options and
Birchos ha-Torah were not recited, one may recite them upon
awakening from his sleep on Shavuos morning (after davening).
ELOKAI NESHAMAH AND HA-MA'AVIR SHEINAH - Here, too, there are
differences of opinion among the poskim as to whether one who
remains awake throughout the night should recite these
blessings. The Mishnah Berurah(15) rules that it is best to hear
these blessings from another person who slept. If no such person
is available, many poskim rule that these blessings may be
recited even by one who did not sleep(16).
IN ACTUAL PRACTICE, WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
As stated earlier, all poskim agree that the other sixteen
morning blessings may be recited by one who did not sleep at all
during the night. Nevertheless, it has become customary in some
shuls that one who slept recites all twenty morning blessings
for the benefit of all those who did not sleep. Two details must
be clarified concerning this practice:
Sometimes it is difficult to clearly hear every word of the
blessing being recited. [Missing one word can sometimes
invalidate the blessing.] If that happens, it is important to
remember that sixteen of the twenty blessings may be recited by
each individual whether he slept or not, as outlined above.
The sixteen blessings which may be recited by each individual
should not be heard from another person unless a minyan is
present. This is because some poskim hold that one cannot
discharge his obligation of Birchos ha-shachar by hearing them
from another person unless a minyan is present(17).
1. Rama O.C. 46:8.
2. Berachos 15a and 60b.
3. The source for the "spirit of impurity" is the Talmud (Shabbos
108b; Yoma 77b) and the Zohar, quoted by the Beis Yosef O.C. 4.
4. O.C. 4:3.
5. Mishnah Berurah 4:8.
6. Aruch ha-Shulchan 4:4 based on Rambam, Hilchos Berachos 6:2.
7. The rationale for this is: 1) Lo pelug, which means that once
the Sages ordained that washing the hands is necessary because
one is considered a "new person", they did not differentiate
between the individual who slept or one who did not (Beis Yosef
quoted by Mishnah Berurah 4:28); 2) The blessing was established
to reflect chiddush ha-olam, which means that since the "world"
as a whole is renewed each morning, it is incumbent upon the
individual to sanctify himself and prepare to serve Hashem each
morning; whether he, personally, was "renewed" is immaterial
(Beiur Halachah quoting the Rashba).
8. Mishnah Berurah 4:28.
9. Aruch ha-Shulchan 4:12 rules like this view.
10. Mishnah Berurah 4:30 and Beiur Halachah 494:1. This should be
done immediately after alos amud ha-shachar in order to remove
the spirit of impurity; O.C. 4:14.
11. Even one who falls asleep during his learning [while leaning
on a shtender or a table, etc.] does not say Birchos ha-Torah
upon awakening; Kaf ha-Chayim 47:27.
12. 47:28. Many other poskim, though, rule that Birchos ha-Torah
may be said even by one who did not sleep at all; see Birkei
Yosef 46:12; Shulchan Aruch Harav 47:7; Aruch ha-Shulchan 47:23;
Kaf ha-Chayim 47:26.
13. R' Akiva Eiger quoted by Mishnah Berurah 47:28.
14. Keren L'David 59 and Luach Eretz Yisrael quoting the Aderes
(quoted in Piskei Teshuvos O.C. 494:6).
15. 46:24. This is also the ruling of Chayei Adam 8:9 and Kitzur
Shulchan Aruch 7:5.
16. Shulchan Aruch Harav 46:7; Kaf ha-Chayim 46:49; Aruch
ha-Shulchan 46:13; Misgeres ha-Shulchan 2:2.
17. Mishnah Berurah 6:14. In addition, see Kisvei Harav Henkin
2:7, who maintains that since many of the blessings are written
in the first person, they must be recited by each individual;
listening to them being recited by another person is not good
Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and
Project Genesis, Inc. Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne
Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily
Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.
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