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 HASHACHAR ON SHAVUOS MORNING
The widespread custom of staying awake the first night of
Shavuos to study Torah presents an halachic problem - what to do
about four of the morning blessings, Birchos Hashachar, 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 a kohen's who washes his hands
before performing the avodah in the bais Hamikdash. =
[In addition to these two reasons, there is still another reason
for washing one's hands in the morning - because of ruach raah,
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 body 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 only rests upon the hands
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 opinions, it is recommended that one of the
following options be exercised:
Immediately after alos amud hashacher, one should relieve
himself and then wash his hands followed by Al Netilas Yadayim
and Asher Yotzar. In this case, all poskim agree that washing
is required and a blessing is recited(10). This is the preferred
Listen - with intent to be yotzei - as another person, who
did sleep, recites the blessing. =
BIRCHO HATORAH - The poskim debate whether one who remains
awake the entire night(11) is required to recite Birchos Hatorah
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 Hatorah must be said each morning regardless of
whether or not one slept, similar to all other Birchos Hashachar
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:
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 learning.
While reciting the second blessing before Krias Shema - Ahavah
Rabbah, one should have the intention to be yotzei Birchos
Hatorah as well. In this case, he needs to learn some Torah
immediately after Shmoneh Esrei.
There are two other options available:
All poskim agree that if one slept (at least one half hour)
during the day of Erev Shavuos he may recite Birchos Hatorah on
Shavuos morning even though he did not sleep at all during the
While reciting Birchos Hatorah 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 Hatorah were not recited, one may recite Birchos Hatorah
upon awakening from his sleep on Shavuos morning (after
ELOKAI NESHAMAH AND HA'MAAVIR SHEINA - Here, too there are
differences of opinion among the poskim whether one who remains
awake throughout the night should recite these blessings.
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 Hashachar by hearing them
from another person unless a minyan is present(17).
1. Rama OC 46:8.
2. Brachos 15a and 60b.
3. The source for the "spirit of impurity" is the Talmud (Shabbos
108b; Yuma 77b) and the Zohar, quoted by the Bais Yosef OC 4. =
4. OC 4:3.
5. Mishnah Berurah 4:8. =
6. Aruch Hashulchan 4:4 based on Rambam Hilchos Brachos 6:2.
7. The rationale for this is: 1) Lo plug, 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 (Bais 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
(Biur Halachah quoting the Rashba).
8. Mishnah Berurah 4:28.
9. Aruch Hashulchan 4:12 rules like this view.
10. Mishnah Berurah 4:30 and Biur Halachah; 494:1. This should be
done immediately after alos amud hashachar in order to remove
the "spirit of impurity" - OC 4:14.
11. Even one who falls asleep during his learning [while leaning
on a shtender or a table, etc.] dose not say Birchos Hatorah
upon awakening - Kaf Hachayim 47:27.
12. 47:28. Many other poskim, though, rule that Birchos Hatorah
may be said even by one who did not sleep at all - see Birkei
Yosef 46:12; Shulchan Aruch Harav 47:7; Aruch Hashulchan 47:23;
Kaf Hachayim 47:26.
13. R' Akiva Eiger quoted by Mishnah Berurah 47:28.
14. Keren L'Dovid 59 and Luach Eretz Yisroel quoting the Aderet
(quoted in Piskei Teshuvos OC 494:6).
15. 46:24. This is also the ruling of Chayei Adam 8:9 and Kitzur
Shulchan Aruch 7:5.