Connecting Nationalism to Torah

While in Israel, foreign students studying in Israel and those living here temporarily or have relatives here, are exempt from second day of Yom Tov * Sefirat HaOmer connects the national side of the Jewish people to their spiritual side, and the basic, natural ’emunah’ (faith) to the way of Torah *Learning Torah all night on Shavuot is fabulous – similar to the adornment of a bride (the Torah) before her marriage, but it is not obligatory * Each person should assess what is more appropriate for him – to study at night and be awake during the day, or vice versa, provided his choice is for the sake of Heaven * The laws of the ritual washing of the hands, ‘Birkot HaShachar’, and eating before prayers for someone who remained awake all night

Second Day Yom Tov for those Visiting Israel, but Live Abroad

The Rabbis instituted that in chutz l’aretz, (outside of Israel) all the Chagim (festivals) must be observed for two days. However, the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) disagreed about a ‘ben chutz l’aretz’ (one who lives outside of Israel) who came to Israel for a visit. Some are of the opinion that for the duration of his stay, he is considered a ‘ben Eretz Yisrael’ [a “resident” of Israel] (Chacham Tzvi, 167; Sulchan Aruch HaRav, 496:11). But according to most poskim, since his place of residence is in chutz l’aretz, even when visiting Israel, he is considered a ‘ben chutz l’aretz‘, and this is the customary practice (Birkei Yosef, 496:7; M.B. 496:13). 

And although ‘m’ikar ha’din’ (according to the strict letter of the law) it would be possible to be lenient, since the law of second day Yom Tov is a Rabbinical decree, and the general rule is ‘safek d’rabbanan l’kula’ (leniency for a doubt of Rabbinic issues), the accepted minhag (custom) is to be strict, and therefore, one even recites the unique blessings for Yom Tov. However, it appears that if the visitor has a deep attachment to the land, and consequently, there is a certain chance that he will choose to immigrate to Israel, while he is in Israel, he should act according to the custom of the Land of Israel.

Those with Affinity Who are Exempt from Yom Tov

Consequently: 1) a student who comes to Israel for a year of study is considered a ‘ben Eretz Yisrael’ while in Israel. 2) A person who visits frequently, once his combined visits accumulate to a year, is already considered to be somewhat of a permanent “resident”, and from then on during the holidays he spends in Israel, should observe only one day. 3) A visitor to Israel who plans on making aliyah when possible, even if he visits for a short time and it will be years until he realizes his plans, for the duration of his stay in Israel, should act as a ‘ben Eretz Yisrael’, and observe one day. 4) A visitor with children or parents who made aliyah is considered as having a strong connection to the country, and for the duration of his stay in Israel, should act as a ‘ben Eretz Yisrael’. 5) A person who purchased an apartment or a house in Eretz Yisrael in which to live while visiting, even though his visits have not yet accumulated to a year, on account of his owning an apartment, he should act as a ‘ben Eretz Yisrael’ while in Israel. 6) A person who left Israel to live in chutz l’aretz, even if he has lived there for tens of years, since he previously resided in Israel for a long period of time, as long as there is even the slightest chance he might move back, he should act as a ‘ben Eretz Yisrael’ for the duration of his visit to Israel.

However, when these people are abroad, since in practice they have not yet immigrated to Israel, they are considered to be ‘b’nei chutz l’aretz’ (foreign citizens) in every respect, and they are obligated to observe second day Yom Tov (these laws are explained in ‘Peninei Halakha: Z’manim’ 9, footnote 8).

The Connection between Pesach and Shavuot

The holiday of Pesach expresses Israel’s national side, because in the Exodus from Egypt, Israel’s uniqueness was revealed, for God chose us from all the nations. On the holiday of Shavuot, we received the Torah, in which the spiritual side of Israel was expressed. Sefirat HaOmer (the counting of the Omer, the days between Pesach and Shavuot) connects the national side with the spiritual side, as we express in the blessing of the Torah: “He who chose us from among all the peoples” on Pesach, and accordingly “gave us his Torah” on Shavuot.

The world was created with the intention that through Israel and the Torah, the Divine ideals would be revealed in it, as our Sages expounded on the word ‘be’reishit‘ (in the beginning): the world was created for the sake of Israel, who are called ‘reishit‘ (beginning), and for the Torah, which is also called ‘reishit‘. The Torah cannot be revealed in the world without Israel, and Israel cannot be revealed in the world without the Torah. Therefore, the most serious sin is the separation between Torah and Israel, and hence, the importance of Sefirat HaOmer, which is intended to connect the national holiday of Pesach with Shavuot.

The Connection between ‘Emunah‘ and Torah

An additional explanation: On Pesach, the fundamental ‘emunah‘ (faith) hidden within Israel’s soul is revealed, and on Shavuot, we merited transcending to the level of a developed ‘emunah‘, enlightened and expanded by the Torah. Fundamental ‘emunah‘ is the basis of everything, but it lacks the ability to direct, and rectify life. By means of the Torah and its commandments, we are able to connect all components of our lives – the intellect, emotions, and the practical side of life, to ‘emunah’.

From the basic belief in God and Redemption which was revealed on Pesach, it is possible to ascend to Shavuot, to the level of the Torah, in which the vision and path to actual ‘tikkun olam’ (rectification of the world) are elaborated. Torah cannot exist without the foundation of fundamental ‘emunah‘, and ‘emunah‘ is unable to exist without Torah that teaches how to implement it. Therefore, each year anew, we return to fulfill the festivals of Pesach and Shavuot, and count Sefirat Ha’Omer which connects them.

Studying Torah on the Night of Shavuot

Q: Is it obligatory to stay awake on the night of Shavuot and study Torah all night, or is it better to go to sleep, and thereby pray the Morning prayers with proper concentration, and study Torah alertly?

A: There is no obligation to study Torah all night. Nevertheless, there are those who do so, in accordance with what is explained in the Zohar:
Chassidim Ha’Rishonim (the early pious ones) would not sleep on that night, but engage in Torah…and thus Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said to the ‘chaverim‘ (close students) at night when they gathered by him: Let us prepare the bride’s jewelry so that tomorrow, in the matrimonial service, she will appear before the king appropriately. Fortunate are the ‘chaverim’, when the king asks the queen: ‘Who arranged your jewelry, and adorned your crown?’ There is no one in the world who knows how to prepare the bride other than the ‘chaverim’. How happy is their portion in this world and the World to Come”. It is further related
in the Zohar: “Rabbi Shimon and all the ‘chaverim’ were joyously studying Torah. Every one of them brought forth a new discovery in the Torah. Rabbi Shimon was rejoicing together with all the friends. Rabbi Shimon said to them: My sons, how happy is your lot, because tomorrow the bride shall not approach the bridal canopy without you. Because all those who prepared the adornments of the bride during this night and rejoice with her, shall all be recorded and written in the ‘Sefer Ha’Zikaron’ (Book of Remembrance), and the Holy One, blessed be He, blesses them with seventy blessings and crowns from the Upper World”.

In order to understand the words of the Zohar, it must first be explained that the day of ‘Matan Torah‘ (Giving of the Torah) is described by our Sages as a wedding day on which God bonded Himself with ‘Knesset Yisrael‘ (the Nation of Israel), similar to a groom and his bride (Taanit 26b). Every year on ‘Chag Shavuot’, the idea of ‘Matan Torah continues to be revealed, and ‘Knesset Yisrael’ connects back with God, like a bride with her groom. The Kabbalists said that those who study Torah on the night of Shavuot are similar to the grooms and bridesmaids of the ‘kallah’ (bride), preparing ‘Knesset Yisrael’ to receive the Torah in the most beautiful way. Consequently, when the day arrives, ‘Knesset Yisrael‘ merits ascending to God, uniting and connecting with Him on a higher level. As a result, Israel merits abundance of Torah, life, and blessing for the entire year.

The ‘Minhag’ is Not Obligatory

Nevertheless, this ‘minhag’ (custom) is not obligatory, and there were eminent rabbis who preferred to sleep on Shavuot night, reasoning that if they remained awake all night they would not be able to concentrate properly in the Morning prayers, would not be able to study at night with sufficient alertness, would have to make-up lost sleep-time, thereby causing ‘bitul Torah‘ (a waste of Torah study time), or, as a result of their tiredness, would not be able to rejoice properly on Chag.

However, those who do remain awake believe that even if the learning at night is not of such high quality, and even if it is difficult to concentrate in the Morning prayers and the tiredness is liable to burden one’s happiness on the Chag, nevertheless, this ‘minhag‘ is a wonderful and deep expression of love for God and Torah, and an expression of a willingness to forgo the pleasure and comfort of sleep – in honor of Heaven, and in the honor of ‘Knesset Yisrael’. That too encompasses a great sense of happiness on the Chag. Ultimately, each person should chose his custom l’shem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven).

The Laws for Those Who Remained Awake All Night


‘Netilat Yadayim‘ (ritual washing of the hands): Even a person who remains awake all night must perform ‘netilat yadayim‘ before Morning prayers, however, the poskim were divided on whether to recite a blessing over this washing, or not. According to Sephardic custom, one does not recite a blessing over this washing of the hands in any case; according to the Ashkenazi custom, it is best is to relieve oneself before prayer, and to touch one of the covered areas of one’s body which had become a bit sweaty since one’s last bathing, and thus, be obligated to wash one’s hands with a blessing.


‘Birkot HaTorah’ and ‘Birkot HaShachar’


According to the vast majority of poskim, when one comes to pray Shacharit (the Morning Prayers) of a new day, he recites ‘Birkot HaTorah’ (Blessings over the Torah) and ‘Birkot HaShachar’ (the Morning Blessings), because a person should recite a blessing over the Torah every day, and thank God through ‘Birkot HaShachar’ for the general good He grants to the world.


Concerning ‘Birkot HaShachar’, some poskim are of the opinion that if one did not sleep at all from the time he recited the blessings the previous day, he is not required to recite them again. Also, regarding the blessings of ‘Elokei Neshama’ and ‘Ha’ma’avir Sheina’, there are some authorities who hold that a person who did not sleep cannot recite these blessings, because these blessings are recited in the singular.

In practice, one who wishes to recite these blessings is permitted to do so, for this is the ‘minhag‘ of all Sephardim, and many Ashkenazim. There are some Ashkenazim whose ‘minhag’ (in accordance with the Mishna Berura) is that if they do not hear the blessings from someone else, they recite these four blessings without ‘Shem and Malchut’ (“Hashem Elokenu Melech Ha’olam”). An Ashkenazi Jew who is uncertain of his ‘minhag‘ is, may act according to the custom of the majority of observant Jews, and recite all the blessings himself.


When to Say the Blessings: According to halakha, ‘Birkot HaShachar’ and ‘Birkot HaTorah’ are recited close to the Morning prayers. According to kabbala‘Birkot HaShachar‘ are recited after ‘Chatzot haLayla’ (midnight), and ‘Birkot HaTorah‘, after ‘Amud HaShachar’ (dawn).

Eating and Drinking before the Morning Prayers

During the night, one may eat and drink without limitation. However, from half an hour before ‘Amud HaShachar’, it is forbidden to eat a ‘seudah’ (a meal), lest one gets over-involved in his meal. This includes the prohibition of eating bread or cakes whose size is larger than a ‘beitza‘(an egg), however, one may eat without ‘keviyut seudah’ (setting a meal) fruits and vegetables and cooked ‘mezanot‘ foods without limitations. From ‘Amud HaShachar’ (approximately 04:00), it is forbidden to eat anything, or to drink coffee or juice, and even one who had started eating or drinking beforehand, should stop. One is allowed to drink only water after ‘Amud HaShachar’.


This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

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