Selected Halachos Related to Shavuos
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
SELECTED HALACHOS RELATING TO SHAVUOS
BIRCHOS Ha-ShACHAR ON SHAVUOS MORNINGS
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
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 times3. Indeed, touching various limbs or organs
of the body is prohibited before hand-washing, due to the danger which is
caused 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 during sleep.(8)]
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 ha-shachar, 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 option.
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 learning.
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 must learn some Torah immediately after Shemoneh Esrei.
There are two other options available:
The 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 the night(13).
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
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
The sixteen blessings which may be recited by each individual should not be
heard from another person unless a minyan is present. This is since some
poskim hold that the obligation of Birchos ha-shachar is discharged only by
hearing them from another person in the presence of a minyan(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 an individual who slept and
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
8 Mishnah Berurah 4:28.
9 Ruling of Aruch ha-Shulchan 4:12.
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
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. Harav C. Kanievsky,
however, reports that the Chazon Ish did not agree with this ruling (Ishei
Yisrael Hilchos Tefillah, pg. 719).
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
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 adequate.