Designated Drivers and L’Havdil – Designated Sleepers


By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times

Perhaps it could be called, “Friends Don’t Friends Recite Safek Bracha Levatalahs.”

The question is, however, how much do these friends have to sleep?

Confusing, yes. So let’s start at the beginning:

In the seventies and eighties, many people were getting killed by drunk-drivers. In 1986, Hiram Walker and Sons, the alcohol company, decided to create a campaign called the “Designated Driver Program.” The program essentially advertised that one person should remain sober and not drink so that he could drive those who did not remain sober to their homes. Bars gave discounts to drinkers that had a “DD” a designated driver.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving supported the idea as did police departments throughout Canada and the United States. The idea soon swept the nation. Harvard University’s Center for Health Communication adopted the project. The US Department of Transportation soon flooded the media with the motto, “Friends don’t let friends drink and drive.”

Shavuos presents a situation which lehavdil – perhaps needs a similar solution – not a “designated driver” but a “designated sleeper.”

The situation for many people on Shavuos presents four possible problems.

On Shavuos, there is a custom to stay up all night and learn. In order to make up for the fact that our ancestors actually had slept the night of the Sinaitic revelation, religious Jews stay up all night and study Torah (Midrash Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:56). The practice is mentioned in the Zohar (Parshas Emor 98a). There it even describes the reward that awaits one who studies Torah all night. The all-night learner receives no less than seventy divine blessings from above and is crowned with a special celestial crown of the upper heavens. Then they are inscribed in a special Sefer HaZikaron, a book of memory.

So what is the issue?

There are certain brachos in which there are questions as to whether or not they may be recited by a person who was up all night. These include (1) the bracha of al netilas yadayim, (2) the bracha of Elokai Neshama, (3) the bracha of Hama’avir shainah and (4) birchas HaTorah. People usually make an asher yatzar upon going to the bathroom – so that one we will assume is not a problem.


What is the reason that we wash our hands in the morning? This is actually a four way debate between the Rosh, the Rashba, the Orchos Chaim (Rav Aharon of Narbonne), and the Zohar. The Rosh (Responsa #61) writes that the sages enacted this obligation because our hands invariably touch parts of the body during the night that should be covered, and we must wash our hands before praying.

The Rashba (Responsa 1:191) writes that we are renewed every morning based upon the Pasuk in Eichah (3:23). Therefore, the sages enacted that we must wash our hands from a vessel just as the Kohanim wash their hands from the Kior (a vessel) in the Bais HaMikdash.

The Orchos Chaim (cited in the Drisha in OC Siman 4) writes that during the nighttime an impure spirit rests upon the hands and does not leave until the hands are washed three times. The Shla (Chulin, Derech Chaim) explains that there are three separate impure forces. Therefore, three washings are necessary to remove them.

The Zohar (Parshas VaYaishev 184) states that when the Neshama leaves it leaves a spirit of Tumah, impurity in the body. When the soul re-enters, the impurity travels to the limbs. Water can remove the impurity from the hands. Why the limbs? The Shla explains that the limbs correspond to the outer extensions of the universe, where the powers of impurity are strongest.

How does the Shulchan Aruch rule? He rules that a bracha is only recited when both the Rosh’s reason and the Rashba’s reasons apply. The other reasons may be reasons to wash one’s hands, but as far as the sages’ enactment goes, the Rosh and the Rashba are the main reasons.

There is a difference between the two views if someone were to stay up all night. The Rashba would hold that the sages made an enactment all across the board, whether one slept or not. The Rosh holds that there is no need to wash the hands in such a situation.

The Mishna Brurah rules (4:30) that if a person used the facilities – he may recite this bracha after washing his hands. It is, however, difficult for everyone to do this at the precise time before Shavuos Shacharis.


The blessings of Elokai Neshama, HaMaavir Shaina and Birchas HaTorah also bring up questions. Perhaps the first two brachos were only enacted for people who underwent sleep. Can one say, “Hashem the soul that You have taken from me” when the person did not actually sleep? Or may he recite “Who removes sleep from eyes” when he didn’t sleep? The issue may be more acute because these brachos are formulated in the singular rather than the plural form.

The answer is that it is a debate between the Shulchan Aruch and Ramah (See Shulchan Aruch 46:8). The Mishna Brurah on 46:24 cites Acharonim that are more stringent than the Ramah. The recommendation is to be yotzeh from someone else.

In the past three decades the custom has developed for almost every HaNetz HaChama minyan on Shavuos to have a designated sleeper come in and recite all the brachos. Previously it was done on a catch-as-can basis; now it has become a bit more formalized.

It is interesting to note that the “designated sleeper” of late doesn’t just recite the four brachos that are in doubt, but he recites all of them. There is actually no need to do so, it does, however, make things less confusing and much simpler.

The designated sleeper could actually have learned during Shavuos night as well. The only requirement is that he must have slept for a half hour in a bed. . Rav Yisroel Gustman zt”l is quoted (Halichos Yisroel Siman 21) as saying that the half hour could even be after Alos HaShachar, but before Naitz.

Also, it could be that the sleeping does not have to be a half hour. The Shaarei Teshuva 46:12 writes that it could be any amount – which is understood as at least 3 minutes (See BH 4:16 “Dovid”).

Rabbi Teplin, the author of Halichos Yisroel, cites Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l that it must be a full 30 minutes because that has become the near universal custom. The Chayei Adam (7:8) and the Marcheshes (Vol. I 14:8) cited by Rabbi Teplin clearly disagree. It is difficult to say that there is a universal custom that developed afterward because there are people who still follow the Ramah.

So how much must the friend or “designated sleeper” sleep? Is it three minutes or thirty minutes? It would seem that the Rav of each Shavuos all-night learning should decide. Have a great kabalas HaTorah – the learners, the designated sleepers, and those who do get a regular night’s sleep as well.

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  1. Shulchan Aruch HaRav rules that the brachos are recited even by one who remained awake the entire night.
    This can be taken into consideration when dealing with the question of how long one has to actually sleep, even if he wants to follow the stringent opinion.