Chapter 19: The Bedtime Shema

01. The Passages of the Bedtime Shema

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.

02. Ha-mapil

 

Some are concerned that after reciting Ha-mapil they will not fall asleep, rendering it a berakha le-vatala. However, the fact that the Sages instituted Ha-mapil means that they were not concerned about this. Ha-mapil is a berakha thanking God for sleep, and even if one does not manage to fall asleep, the expression of thanks is not made in vain (Ĥayei Adam 35:4). Still, the Sages instituted this recitation for those who intend to sleep, and therefore one who does not plan sleeping on a given night does not recite Ha-mapil. 1

Ha-mapil is not recited on daytime sleep, although some recommend reciting Vi-yhi No’am before taking a daytime nap (MB 239:8 and BHL s.v. “Samukh”). Ha-mapil is also not recited on temporary sleep at night. However, sleeping in one’s bed for at least half an hour is considered regular sleep (Eshel Avraham §239; Beit Barukh 35:10).

One who went to sleep at night after reciting Ha-mapil, later rose to handle certain matters, and then went back to sleep does not repeat Ha-mapil, since it is only recited once a night (Beit Barukh 35:9.

One who fell asleep without reciting Ha-mapil and woke up in the middle of the night with the intention of falling back asleep recites the berakha before going back to sleep. She must rub her hands on her blanket before reciting it in case her hands touched the normally covered parts of her body (SA 4:23; MB 61; unlike Piskei Teshuvot 239:1 which states that netilat yadayim is required).

Some infer, based on Arizal’s mystical teachings, that only one who goes to sleep before ĥatzot recites Ha-mapil. Hence, many Sephardim recite Ha-mapil without God’s name when going to sleep after midnight (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 239:8; see Yeĥaveh Da’at vol. 4:70). However, according to practice of Ashkenazim and some Sephardim, one recites Ha-mapil as long as she goes to sleep before dawn.

  1. According to Ben Ish Ĥai, Pekudei (Year 1) 12, Ha-mapil is not recited with God’s Name (Shem U-malkhut), lest the one saying it interrupt by talking or does not fall asleep. Nonetheless, according to most poskim, it is recited with God’s name because talking does not render the berakha invalid, and there is no need to be concerned that the person reciting it will not fall asleep.

03. Additional Laws

One who recited Shema and Ha-mapil and then must talk, eat, drink, or tend to an urgent matter may do so since Ha-mapil is not like a Birkat Ha-nehenin concerning which one may not interrupt between the berakha and the benefit derived. Rather, it is a berakha of praise for the night’s sleep. However, le-khatĥila, it is best to recite the bedtime Shema immediately before sleep (see Rema 239:1; Tzitz Eliezer 7:27; Yeĥaveh Da’at 4:70; Piskei Teshuvot 239:3; however MB 239:4 is stringent after Ha-mapil).

One may recite the bedtime Shema while lying down, but the Sages teach that a man must take care to lean on his side (Peninei Halakha: Prayer 26:3).

The Ba’alei Mussar (Jewish moralists, especially of nineteenth and twentieth-century Europe) recommend a nightly detailed introspection. If one remembers sinning, she should confess her sin and resolve not to perpetrate that sin again. It is also proper that before one goes to sleep one forgives anyone who sinned against her or caused her harm so that no one is punished because of her. By doing so, she merits long life (MB 239:9).