Adapted from Torah LaDa'at by Rav Mattityahu Blum

The Zohar discusses the practice common among the pious Jews of previous generations to stay up all night learning on the night of Shavuot (the first night outside of Israel). The Magen Avraham (O.C. 494) states that this practice came about as a kind of eternal atonement for the fact that the Jews overslept on the morning of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Thus, we stay up all night to show our zealousness for receiving and learning the Torah on the holiday that commemorates its giving.

As commendable as this practice is, it raises a few halachic questions. We know that there are several series of blessings that one says every morning upon waking up - blessings about having woken up, about various activities performed early in the day (getting dressed, walking, etc.), and the blessings on the Torah. While each of these blessings has its own set of laws, they are bound together by the common factor that all are said only once a day, generally in the morning. What happens when a person's day never ended, i.e. the past day was never punctuated by a period of sleep, and thus two calendar or chronological days are effectively run together to become one? Are the blessings still made when the sun rises for a second time? The answers to these questions, as we shall see, will depend on what exactly brings about an obligation to say these blessings.

The first issue is whether or not one has to wash his hands and say al netilat yadayim when day breaks. This law centers around a debate between Rosh and Rashba as to why one has to wash in the morning to begin with. According to Rosh, one washes because one's hands are constantly in motion and likely come into contact with dirty areas of the body. Rashba, on the other hand, contends that when one sleeps, one is effectively re-created (the gemara in Brachot notes that sleep is considered to be one-sixtieth of death), and thus we wash so as to purify and sanctify our "new" selves. Neither opinion leads to a definite conclusion for our purposes. According to Rashba, we certainly have not become new beings, and thus there would seemingly be no need to wash. According to Rosh as well, when we are awake, we can be careful as to what our hands touch and thus we would presumably only have to wash them if we knew that they were dirty (a concept that applies in the middle of the day as well). However, there is a third factor, that of "evil spirits" that contaminate the hands. The doubt in this case is if these spirits come as a result of sleep during the night, or perhaps merely as the result of the night turning into day. Ramo states that one who stays up all night should wash his hands but without a blessing, while the Mishna Berura cites those who claims that a blessing should be made. To solve the problems, it is generally recommended that one should relieve oneself, thus obligating himself in the blessing, then say both al netilat yadayim and asher yatzar (the blessing said after going to the bathroom).

Tzitzit present an interesting issue. One of the major discussions involved in the laws of tzitzit in general revolves around the fact that there is no obligation to wear them at night. Thus, one does not say a blessing if he puts them on at night, and a garment that is designated for nighttime use only (e.g. pajamas) is not required to have tzitzit attached to it. In our situation, we can assume that one is wearing his tzitzit under his clothes all night, never having taken them off since saying the blessing on them the previous morning. Our question then becomes whether the nighttime, being a time when there is no obligation, serves as an interruption in the performance of the commandment to wear tzitzit, and thus a new blessing must be said, or if perhaps the continuous wearing is viewed in the eyes of halacha as exactly that, a continuous wearing, and no new blessing is needed. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 8:15) states that one who sleeps in his tallit has to say a new blessing when he wakes up, although he should at least hold onto the strings when he says the blessing. The Mishna Berura points out that there are those who hold that a daytime garment is obligated to have tzitzit on it even at night, and thus there may be reason to say that there is no break in the performance of the mitzva and no new blessing is needed. Since we generally tend towards the more lenient view when it comes to saying blessings (not wanting to say an unnecessary blessing, as that would constitute an unnecessary mention of God's name), the Mishna Berura advises that no new blessing be said. Two solutions exist for this issue. The first is to hear the blessing from someone who has slept and to say amen to it. The second approach is to have in mind while putting on the external tallit to cover both the tallit katan and the tallit gadol with that one blessing. Since one has not worn the tallit gadol since the previous morning, its blessing may be said, and since it is similar to the blessing said on the tallit katan, it may count for that as well.

The next set of blessings is birchot ha-shachar - the series of blessings said raising Hashem for helping us wake up, for helping us see, walk erect, etc. There is a general argument on this matter between the Shulchan Aruch and the Ramo regarding the reason that one says these blessings on a regular day. According to the Shulchan Aruch, one says the blessings as he encounters the referent of each one, and thus if one were not to hear the call of the rooster in the morning, one would say that blessing without mentioning the name of Hashem. Ramo disagrees, claiming that the blessings are not personal, but rather refer to Hashem's abilities on a broad scale, and even if an individual has not been affected by one of the things mentioned in the blessings, it is still appropriate to bless Hashem for the fact that He does such things in His world. In general, we follow Ramo, however the Mishna Berura points out two exceptions. Citing the Eliyahu Rabba, he mentions that one should not say the two blessings that pertain to waking up in the morning (Elokai neshama and ha-ma'avir sheina) if he has not slept. The Sha'arei Teshuva states that one should thus listen to someone else say the blessings and answer amen, unless he has slept "sixty breaths," in which case he may say them himself. The exact length of time implied by "sixty breaths" is a subject of debate, with opinions ranging from three minutes to three hours. Half an hour is the generally accepted view.

Finally, we come to birchot ha-Torah. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 47:12) notes that in general, the night follows the day with regard to these blessings, and thus one does not have to say a new blessing if he learns at night. However, the Mishna Berura points out, this applies only if he does not sleep. Once a person sleeps at night, he must say birchot ha-Torah again when he wakes up. The Mishna Berura continues and notes that when one is awake all night, there is a debate as to whether he has to say birchot ha-Torah again in the morning. Once again, there are two options. The first is to hear the blessings from someone else and say amen, after which each person should say a few verses or learn some Torah on his own (another person can only help to fulfill one's obligation in the blessing, but not in the actual learning that the blessing is going on). The second option is to have intention during the blessing of ahava rabba (before Shema) that that blessing will fulfill his obligation to say birchot ha-Torah. Since the content of that blessing is similar to the blessings said over the Torah, as a general rule it fulfills the obligation to say those blessings.

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