Shabbat Rosh Hashana| 5764
Ask the Rabbi
Question: Is it permitted to sleep on Rosh Hashana afternoon?
Answer: It is tricky to try to balance the various aspects of Rosh Hashana. It is, at once, a day of fear and of festivity (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 597:1; see Nechemia 8). The minhag you refer to stems from the fear of judgment, and many take it very seriously. We will review the sources and suggest to the individual to choose his practice based on his custom, his strength, and his circumstances.
The Rama (OC 583:1) brings and praises the minhag not to sleep on Rosh Hashana. The source given is a Yerushalmi that he who sleeps on Rosh Hashana, his mazal sleeps, implying that his judgment may not go as well as it could. (Acharonim point out that our editions of the Yerushalmi are missing this quote). Certainly we have precedent in Tanach that it is considered foolish to sleep when one’s fate hangs in the balance (see Yonah 1:6).
The Mishnah Berura (583:9) and others quote the Ari z”l that after chatzot (midday), the Heavenly situation is such that one can sleep. As few people finish davening and eating by chatzot, this minhag seems to have little impact on most of us. However, not all agree with the Ari on this matter. (Our mentor, Harav Yisraeli z.t.l. was lenient on this matter). The Bach (OC 597) cites the Ram who was totally lenient on the matter of sleep on Rosh Hashana (possibly because he didn’t feel the minhag should affect the ability to enjoy the yom tov on a physical level).
It is of note that, according to the logical opinion of some, many “miss the boat” in regard to this minhag. The source doesn’t say, “not to go to sleep” during the day of Rosh Hashana but “not to sleep.” According to some, this means that one should wake up before the day begins, which may be as early as alot hashachar, more than an hour before sunrise (Kaf Hachayim 583:39; Ben Ish Chai, cited ibid.). (The simple implication of Aruch Hashulchan (597:2) and perhaps Chayei Adam (139:8) is not that way.) There is room for leniency until sunrise (Piskei Teshuvot 583:(65)) even according to this approach. Leniency becomes more appropriate if waking up so early will affect one’s concentration during tefilla. However, there are strong grounds to say that if one is capable of getting up early, it is counterproductive to sleep longer in order to stay up in theafternoon(Ben Ish Chai, ibid.).
The impact of refraining from sleep is cited as a factor elsewhere. The Mishna Berura (ibid.) says that not sleeping is not the goal in and of itself. Rather, the time should be spent on spiritually worthwhile activities such as learning Torah and saying Tehillim (ibid.; Chayei Adam 139:11). If a little sleep will facilitate learning, then it is a worthwhile tradeoff (ibid.). The Mishna Berura goes on to say that wasting one’s time is equivalent to sleeping.
As the first day is the main day of Rosh Hashana and its judgment, there is even more room for leniency on the second day of Rosh Hashana (Piskei Teshuvot 583:10).
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