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Shabbat Parashat Shemot 5779

Ask the Rabbi: Reading before Going to Sleep

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: Is it permissible to read a book after the bedtime Shema/Hamapil?  I like to read in bed before falling asleep, but I sometimes fall asleep and, if I have not said them beforehand, it is possible that I will sleep through the night without reciting them. 


Answer: Reciting the beracha of Hamapil is mandated by the gemara (Berachot 60b) and codified as halacha (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 239:1). We say it in conjunction with Kri’at Shema prior to going to bed, which is also an obligation (Berachot 4b; Shulchan Aruch ibid.), and there are other p’sukim and texts relating to our desire for divine protection during sleep.

The gemara says that one makes the beracha as he prepares to lie down in bed to sleep. The Rama (OC 239:1) says that one should not eat, drink, or talk between Kri’at Shema and actually sleeping. Most assume that this applies as much or more to interruptions between Hamapil and sleeping.

A break could be particularly problematic after Hamapil for two reasons. First, if one made a break after Kri’at Shema, he can repeat Kri’at Shema as much as he likes (according to Rama ibid., the more the better). In contrast, one may not recite Hamapil, which is a beracha, at will (Mishna Berura 239:4). Furthermore, there is a fundamental question as to Hamapil’s function. The Chayei Adam (35:4) says that the beracha is a general thanks to Hashem for providing sleep, and it is appropriate to recite it at night, when people generally sleep. He says that the beracha remains appropriate even if one did not end up falling asleep, because other people did sleep. This is similar to the idea of one reciting Birchot Hashachar for things from which people benefit in the morning, even if he did not personally benefit that day from those things (Shulchan Aruch, OC 46:8). On the other hand, many cite the Seder Hayom, who says that Hamapil should be said very close to the time one falls asleep, as the beracha relates to one’s personal sleep. The Biur Halacha (239:1) strengthens this opinion by pointing out that Hamapil was composed in the first person, implying it refers to the sleep of the one reciting the beracha (see Sha’arei Teshuva 46:12).

The question then is whether reading is a hefsek (a halachic break) between Kri’at Shema/Hamapil and sleeping. Reading with one’s eyes (without moving his lips) is halachically considered hirhur, i.e., thinking about something (see Mishna Berura 47:8). Although the gemara cites a dispute on the status of hirhur, the consensus is that it does not generally count as speaking (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 62:3; 47:4). Therefore, when only a full hefsek is forbidden, reading is not forbidden (see Yabia Omer, II, OC 4 regarding learning between Yishtabach and Kaddish). After Kri’at Shema/Hamapil is not a particularly strict time. On the other hand, we have seen that the ideal is to do the recitations as close as possible to going to sleep.

In practice, the best advice depends on the way your reading and sleeping interact. If the reading is relatively short and a part of how you fall asleep, then you can do the recitations before reading; the reading can be considered a part of the process of going to sleep (similar to adjusting the blanket, or at least like setting an alarm that you forgot to do before). If you read at that time because it is a convenient/pleasant time to do so and then put down the book and make the final preparations for sleep, Kri’at Shema/Hamapil should be part of those final preparations. If the reading is something in between, where you sometimes finish reading and then get ready for bed and sometimes fall asleep while you are reading, then you should read until you feel yourself getting close to sleep. At that point, you should do the recitations and either put the book down or continue the final minute(s) of reading. If you accidentally fall asleep before reciting Hamapil, you are not to be blamed. Only if it is likely that you will fall asleep soundly without enough warning is it better to recite Hamapil/Kri’at Shema first.
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