Throughout my youth, I enjoyed Country Yossi’s Kivi and Tuki children tapes. On one of the tapes, Country Yossi annoyedly asks Tuki why he can’t get him into bed at night, but then can’t get him out of bed in the morning. Tuki replies that it is one of the many unanswerable mysteries of life.
For children and adolescents, there is a certain thrill in staying up late. Somewhere along the way in early adulthood, we begin to wish that someone would put us to bed at 8:30 pm. But children love to brag about how late they were up.
On Thursday of last week, the 2019 summer camping season began at Camp Dora Golding. Wasting no time, on Motza’ei Shabbos, the oldest two divisions of camp (the “Malchus” divisions) were informed that they would have an all-nighter. The campers loved it. After late night sports competitions, they enjoyed a midnight swim with a barbecue at the pool, followed by a bonfire. They then davened Shacharis at vasikin (3:45 a.m. camp time). The best part of their all-nighter was that they had no morning activities and were able to sleep until lunch.
A younger camper asked me why they wanted to stay up all night. If they would have done all those same activities during the day, they could have done everything for longer.
It brought to mind the prevalent custom to stay awake the entire Shavuos night. The whole custom seems counterintuitive. If the point is to learn as much Torah as possible, wouldn’t it make more sense to get a normal night’s sleep, and then learn through the afternoon? Since Shavuos is during the summer when the nights are relatively short, on average a person learns four to five hours during the overnight (not including coffee and cheesecake breaks). The afternoon, on the other hand, is seven to eight hours. (Someone noted that in Gateshead the night is even shorter, and learning all night entails learning for only about 45 minutes.)
Obviously, staying up all night isn’t about qualitative learning, but about demonstrating excitement. One only stays up late, or all night, for something truly important or exciting.
For teenagers, playing ball, swimming, and eating through the night is unusual, and therefore exciting.
Remaining awake all night on Shavuos reinforces to us that Torah study is something special, something worth willingly giving up sleep for.
A friend once quipped that when someone asks you how you are, he means aside from the fact that you’re tired. The fact that you feel fatigued is taken as a given.
As we get older, we seem to yearn to spend more time in bed. We constantly feel sleep-deprived and energy-drained, as we try to keep up with our daily stresses and responsibilities. Yet, there are things that we willingly give up sleep for. Parents know well about losing sleep for their children. We attend weddings to celebrate with friends and stay up late to complete projects or meet deadlines.
There are the many people who drag themselves out to learn Torah at night after a full day or work or pull themselves out of bed early so they can immerse themselves in Torah before heading off to work. What incredible people!
Every morning, we recite the brachah thanking Hashem “Who gives strength to the tired.” We would love to not feel drained or tired, but fatigue seems to be an inevitability of life. The challenge is for us to push past our tiredness in order to fulfill our obligations and responsibilities.
We don’t thank Hashem Who takes away our tiredness. Rather, we thank Him for helping us traverse it.