01. The Passages of the Bedtime Shema

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The Sages teach (Berakhot 60b), “When going to bed one recites Shema until Ve-haya im Shamo’a (i.e., the first paragraph of Shema) and says the blessing ‘Barukh Ha-mapil Ĥevlei Sheina…’ (‘Who brings the bonds of slumber down upon my eyes…’)” Likewise, R. Yehoshua b. Levi said, “Even if one recited Shema in the synagogue, it is a mitzva to recite it on his bed.” The Sages support their words with the verse (Tehilim 4:5), “Meditate in your hearts [while] on your beds, and be silent sela” (Berakhot 4b). There is no difference between men and women concerning these laws. 1

  1. Yehoshua b. Levi would recite two additional psalms before his sleep: “Yoshev Be-seter Elyon” (Tehilim 91) and “Hashem Ma Rabu Tzarai” (Tehilim 3), which are effective against harmful entities (Shevuot 15b); many have adopted this practice. Over the years, additional psalms and verses have been added as customary recitations. Since these are late additions, the versions differ according to community. Some recommend reciting Ve-haya im Shamo’a as well, and recommend reciting all three paragraphs. 2

In sum, according to the enactment of the Sages, one must recite the first paragraph of Shema and Ha-mapil before going to sleep, but the remaining psalms are not required. Nevertheless, many follow the custom of R. Yehoshua b. Levi and recite these psalms to ward off harmful entities (see MA 239:2). 3

Some are careful to recite Ha-mapil right before going to sleep, after reciting Shema and all the other verses. However, according to kabbalistic custom, Ha-mapil precedes Shema and the other verses. One who is concerned that she will fall asleep before concluding the prayers should start with Shema and Ha-mapil, thereby ensuring that she will have recited passages that the Sages instituted before falling asleep (ibid.).

  1. Although MA (239:2) states that women do not customarily recite Ha-mapil because it is a time-bound commandment, still, the remaining poskim (SHT 239:16; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 239:3; Halikhot Shlomo 13:22) maintain that since the recitation of Shema and the Ha-mapil serve as protection, and women need protection just as much as men, women, too, must recite Shema and say Ha-mapil.
  2. The Sages only instituted the recitation of the first paragraph of Shema before going to sleep, as Rif (Berakhot 3a in the Rif pages), Rambam, and Rosh (Berakhot 1:6) write. However, in 9:23, Rosh cites Rabbeinu Ĥananel, who maintains that Ve-haya im Shamo’a is recited as well. Perhaps Rabbeinu Ĥananel understood the Gemara’s words “until Ve-haya im Shamo’a” to be inclusive of the second paragraph. Divrei Ĥamudot (ad loc. 7) interprets Rosh’s opinion to refer to a locale where Ma’ariv was recited before tzeit ha-kokhavim , making it necessary to recite the first two paragraphs of Shema before going to sleep. Rabbeinu Yeruĥam (3:2) and Rabbeinu Yona in Sefer Ha-yir’a state that all three paragraphs are recited, for together they contain 248 words, and saying them provides a special protection against harmful entities.
  3. Berakhot 5a states: “R. Naĥman says: A Torah scholar recite Shema on his bed (for his learning protects him). Abaye says: Even a Torah scholar must recite one verse invoking God’s mercy, such as, ‘Into Your hand I entrust my spirit. You redeem me, Lord, God of truth’ (Tehilim 31:6).” Rif and Rosh mention that a Torah scholar is not obligated to repeat Shema, but Rambam and SA do not mention this, implying that according to them, a Torah scholar must also repeat it. Perhaps the source for their opinion is y. Berakhot 1:1, which discusses Torah scholars who recited Shema several times in order to fall asleep while saying Shema. Nevertheless, regarding the other verses, the recitation of which is not obligatory, it seems that a Torah scholar may opt to fall asleep while learning from a book or while deep in thought. However, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 239:1 states that by reciting Arizal’s formula for the bedtime Shema, one effects a tikun, and therefore even a Torah scholar must recite it.
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