We observe Shabbat by honoring it and by taking pleasure and delight on that day.1 The rabbis explain that one way to make Shabbat pleasurable is by enjoying good food and drink.2 Additionally, many have the practice of taking a short nap on Shabbat afternoon. In fact, the word “Shabbat” (שבת) is an acronym for שינה בשבת תענוג, “sleep on Shabbat is enjoyment.”3

Giving people the opportunity to sleep in a bit on Shabbat morning is one of the reasons why Shabbat morning services typically begin later than weekday services.4

The Reasons to Stay Up

But it’s not that clear-cut. We find in the Code of Jewish Law that:

If one is accustomed to sleeping during the afternoon during the week, he should not neglect this practice on Shabbat,because it is pleasurable for him.5

The implication is that Shabbat naps are only for those folks who typically take a siesta during the week, a relatively small (and fortunate) group of people.

Furthermore, many, notably the rebbes of Chabad, would caution that due to the awesome holiness of the day, one should not squander it on sleep. Instead, they urged that we dedicate our time to extra Torah study and prayer with added devotion.6

The Jerusalem Talmud states that Shabbat and the festivals were given to the Jewish people solely so that they occupy themselves with Torah study on these days.7 During the week, people are preoccupied with their work and do not have the opportunity to make Torah study their primary occupation. However, on Shabbat, they are free from their work and can occupy themselves with Torah study in a befitting manner.8

Thus, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi writes in his Shulchan Aruch:9

Workers and businessmen whose principal occupation during the week is not Torah study should not overindulge in the delights of eating and drinking on Shabbat. Instead, a small degree of [such] delight is sufficient for them, because they must occupy themselves in Torah study extensively. By contrast, Torah scholars who are primarily occupied in the study of Torah throughout the days of the week may indulge slightly more in the delights of eating and drinking, because they delight in their studies throughout the days of the week.

Nevertheless, even they must occupy themselves with Torah study. They are not permitted to spend the entire day in the delights of eating, drinking and sleeping, for it is written: “A Shabbat unto G‑d, your L‑rd.”10

A Night of 80 Years

On the other hand, from mystical traditions, it would seem that there is a reason to specifically take a nap on Shabbat afternoon.

There are numerous teachings of the Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria, 1534–1572, father of the Safed school of Kabbalah) that, although one should eschew sleeping on weekday afternoons, Shabbat afternoon sleep is a pleasure both for the body and the soul.11

The Arizal, who would sleep between two and three hours on Shabbat afternoon, once told his student Rabbi Avraham Halevi that even if he were to speak for 60 or 80 years straight, day and night, it would not suffice for him to relate all the secrets of the Torah that he perceived during his Shabbat afternoon nap.12 However, although we can all strive to have a glimmer of that experience, we shouldn’t squander our time on regular sleep.13

In Conclusion

It’s true that napping on Shabbat is certainly considered a delight, but unlike food and drink, it’s not a requirement. On the contrary, we should weigh our priorities and make sure that we don’t snooze our way through the spiritual opportunities that Shabbat presents us with.

Let me conclude by quoting the following wish from the Shabbat Grace After Meals: “May the Merciful One let us inherit that day that will be all Shabbat and rest for life everlasting!”