Question: Is there a Mitzvah to sleep on Shabbat in order to fulfill the edict of “Sleeping on Shabbat is enjoyable” or is it preferable to delve in the holy Torah all day long?
Answer: We find that the Rishonim already mention that there is a Mitzvah to sleep on Shabbat, for “sleeping on Shabbat is enjoyable” and one is commanded to make Shabbat as enjoyable as possible with clean clothing and delicious foods and beverages. The same applies here that there is a Mitzvah to sleep during Shabbat afternoon in order to make Shabbat more enjoyable.
Who Needs to Sleep on Shabbat?
Nevertheless, the Talmud Yerushalmi (quoted by the Meiri in his commentary on Shabbat 118b) states: “How must one make Shabbat enjoyable? One sage says, one must make it enjoyable by sleeping and another sage says, one must make it enjoyable by studying Torah.” The Gemara explains that these sages do not disagree, for one sage refers to a Torah scholar and the other refers to a layman.
The Meiri explains that regarding a Torah scholar who toils in Torah all week long, there is a Mitzvah for him to sleep a little bit on Shabbat so that he is not too mentally worn out. However, regarding a layman who does not toil in Torah so much during the course of the week, there is a Mitzvah for him to toil in Torah on Shabbat.
On the other hand, the Meiri’s rabbis explain the Gemara exactly the opposite. They explain that for a Torah scholar for whom toiling in Torah is extremely enjoyable, there is a Mitzvah for him to make Shabbat enjoyable by toiling in Torah, which is the greatest form of enjoyment for him. However, regarding a layman for whom Torah study is not especially enjoyable, he should make Shabbat enjoyable by sleeping. Several other Rishonim (quoted by Maran Ha’Chida in his Machazik Beracha, Chapter 290) concur with the opinion of the Meiri’s rabbis.
Based on the above, there seems to be a disagreement whether one should sleep during Shabbat afternoon or if one should delve in Torah study.
According to Kabbalah
Based on the teachings of Kabbalah, Rabbeinu Chaim Vital writes in the name of the saintly Ari z”l that sleeping on Shabbat is beneficial for the righteous and that the great Ari would sleep on Shabbat for two hours in order to make Shabbat more enjoyable. It seems that the holy Ari z”l agreed with the opinion of the Meiri that only Torah scholars should sleep on Shabbat but for laymen, it is preferable that they toil in Torah all day long.
The Halacha According to All Opinions
According to all opinions, however, it is improper for one to sleep through the entire Shabbat day like some have the custom go to sleep immediately following the Shabbat day meal until it is time for Mincha and Se’uda Shelishit (the third Shabbat meal). It is incorrect to make Shabbat enjoyable with only with physical enjoyments and to deprive one’s soul of the ultimate enjoyment of Torah study. Indeed, our Sages teach us (Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Vayakhel) that the Shabbat was given to the Jewish nation for them to delve in Torah study.
This is especially true regarding the Shabbatot during this time of year which are comprised of very short days but very long nights; one should make sure to attend Torah lectures and study the weekly Torah portion with its commentaries every week. As a reward, one will merit enjoying a world which is completely Shabbat and rest for all eternity.
Maran zt”l’s Behavior
Indeed, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, who toiled in Torah his entire life, would toil in Torah on Shabbatot with a unique diligence and dedication and would look into various topics that he did not have a chance to during the rest of the week. Indeed, even in his younger years when his children were still little, he would study Torah until the wee hours of Shabbat night. The Shabbat meal would end at approximately eight o’ clock and he would remain awake learning for hours on end. Since the house was so cold, he would take his coat and drape it over his head; he would then sit learn in this way with great thirst until the late hours of the night.
Once, approximately twenty years ago, Maran zt”l visited the United States and stayed in the home of Rabbi David Ozeiri Shlit”a, one of the leaders of the Sephardic community in Brooklyn, New York. Needless to say, the rabbi prepared Maran zt”l and his wife, the Rabbanit, their own private room to sleep in.
On Erev Shabbat, Maran asked his host if there was a small night-light close to the room so that he could learn a little on Shabbat night. Rabbi Ozeiri replied that he had prepared a night-light in the large closet within the guest room and when Maran would open the closet door, there would be light in the room and when the door was closed, Maran would be able to sleep.
On Shabbat morning, Rabbi Ozeiri asked the Rabbanit if the accommodations in their room were satisfactory, to which the she replied, “Everything was just fine. The Rav took a chair, brought it into the closet, closed the door behind him and learned Torah all night long.”