The Midrash states1 that the Jewish people slept the entire night before Matan Torah. They did so, explains the Midrash, because the “sleep of Atzeres (Shavuos) is sweet and the night is short.” Moreover, the Midrash goes on to state: “On that night, even the purtana (a type of biting fly) did not bite them.”

The Midrash concludes that when G‑d came at dawn and found the people asleep, it was necessary for Him to rouse them. This is the meaning of G‑d’s query:2 “Why did I arrive [to give the Torah] and no one was there? I called, and nobody answered.”

Our Sages inform us3 that when the Jewish people heard that fifty days after their departure from Egypt they would receive the Torah, they were filled with an intense desire to acquire it. They therefore began counting the days that remained until the Torah would be given.

Bearing in mind that for seven weeks prior to Matan Torah the Jews were already extremely enthusiastic about receiving it, we can imagine how much greater was their yearning and excitement on the night before the Torah was given. This being so, how was it possible for the Jewish people to sleep that night, let alone sleep so soundly?

This leads us to the inevitable conclusion that when the Jewish people went to sleep on the night preceding the Giving of the Torah, it was not, G‑d forbid, because they ceased thinking about the Torah. Quite the contrary, going to sleep that night served to prepare them in some way to receive it.

Additional proof that their sleep was a form of preparation to receiving the Torah can be adduced from the miracle of their not being bitten by the purtana that night. If going to sleep constituted a lack of interest in receiving the Torah, G‑d would not have miraculously kept these normally biting flies from biting.

But how could the fact that the Jewish people went to sleep possibly have served as a foundation for receiving the Torah?

The Alter Rebbe writes4 that no matter how great a soul’s comprehension of, and union with G‑dliness while clothed in a body, it can in no way compare to the level on which the soul cleaves to G‑d prior to its descent, when it was unencumbered by a physical body. For the body is simply incapable of experiencing such holiness.

When a person sleeps, the major portion of his soul leaves his body and ascends above.5 The soul of a sleeper can therefore attain much greater levels of spiritual comprehension than while awake.

This is why the Jews went to sleep just prior to Matan Torah: they wanted their souls to attain greater spiritual heights. The Jewish people thought that this intense spiritual elevation would be the best possible preparation for the tremendous revelation they would soon be receiving from above when they would be granted the gift of the Torah.

Their good intentions notwithstanding, G‑d was displeased with them for going to sleep, for they should have prepared for Matan Torah in another manner:

The unique accomplishment of Matan Torah — as opposed to mitzvos performed before the Torah was given — was that the mitzvos performed after Matan Torah refined and elevated the objects with which they were performed, with the objects themselves becoming holy. It is specifically through involvement withthe physical and refining one’s physical body and surroundings that one attains union with G‑d’s Essence,6 something that cannot be accomplished by the soul alone.

Since Matan Torah served to guide and advance the spiritual service of a soul within a body, it follows that the preparation for receiving the Torah should have been in a like manner; not fleeing the body, but rather remaining fully in the framework and confines of a corporeal body to accomplish one’s spiritual service.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, pp. 1024-1027.