By Mordechai Schmutter
You can always tell what time of year it is by reading the news. For example, I just read an Associated Press article titled “Austrian Thieves Make Off With 2 Tons of Coffee.” Because one ton is never enough. You know how it is. You drink one ton, and five years later, you’re tired again.
But what I’m saying is that, apparently, Shavuos is coming.
Those of us who don’t live in Austria or have easy access to insane amounts of coffee need tips on how to stay awake for an entire night—whether it’s Shavuos, or whether you just need to take a test that you did not realize was coming, despite years of sitting in school and being tested on just about everything you’ve learned, or whether you have an article to write, and the deadline snuck up on you, despite six years of writing an article every single week. But mostly we’re going to focus on Shavuos.
Sure, experts say that the best way to stay up for an entire night is to take a nap the day before. But experts don’t have to spend that day making yom tov. And in the case of tests and articles, why would you take a nap the day before if you’re behind schedule? You obviously hoped to finish up during the day so you wouldn’t have to stay up all night! So we think that maybe these experts aren’t getting enough sleep.
So we need some real tips, other than scheduling Shavuos for a Motzaei Shabbos. We understand that everyone earns zechusim in his own way, but we still don’t want to be the guy who says Birchos HaShachar for everyone. Or the one who stays up most of the night, falls asleep right before Shacharis, and has to wake up again at 8. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of expert advice on how to stay up all night, because most people aren’t looking to stay up all night.
So the key, I think, is to look at the advice that experts give on how to fall asleep at night—what to avoid, for example—and then reverse it. For example, one thing that keeps people awake is having a roommate who snores. So a good way to stay awake on Shavuos night, we think, is to put someone in the beis midrash who snores.
Another thing that causes insomnia is worrying. Worrying always keeps you awake at night, it’s the main thing that gets you out of bed in the morning, and it keeps you going all day until the worry that you’ll be tired the next morning trumps the worrying that is keeping you putting out fires well into the night. Thus, a good way to stay awake on Shavuos night is to spend the whole night worrying about something. Take out a huge loan right before Shavuos, or have the in-laws over for yom tov. Or have a deal with your chavrusah that if one of you falls asleep, the other can slap him across the face to wake him up. That’ll keep you on your toes.
Another good way to not fall asleep is to talk. So, for example, if you’re learning with a chavrusah, make sure that you’re the one saying. And if you get stuck, don’t stare at a Tosfos for ten minutes in total silence. So come to think of it, maybe both of you should say. In unison. Or take turns saying every other word. Your comprehension will plummet, but you’ll both stay awake.
If you’re not saying, you should probably keep chewing. There’s got to be something you can eat. There’s a whole room full of cake, and you know that your wife is asleep. But it doesn’t have to be cake. For example, experts are always telling insomniacs not to eat spicy foods. So there you go. Especially if you eat the spicy food and then rub your eyes because you’re tired. On the other hand, the reason spicy food keeps people awake is heartburn. So you’ll be up all night, but you’ll wish you weren’t.
So maybe your best bet is coffee. With milk. Or without milk; we’re not sure. Warm coffee with cold milk drunk separately and mixed in your mouth? I don’t know.
Maybe a nice coffee cake. My father-in-law told me that someone he knows was making a coffee cake, and the recipe called for one cup of coffee, and instead of putting in a cup of prepared coffee, she put in a full cup of coffee crystals, which is actually the equivalent of about 48 cups of coffee. And you can’t get 48 slices out of a typical cake.
But coffee’s definitely the simplest idea.
The History Of Coffee
You know what? Never mind. Nothing will put you to sleep like the history of coffee. So if you’re reading this Shavuos night, I’d suggest you stop here. Go learn or something.
Coffee was discovered about 1,200 years ago in Ethiopia. As the legend goes, a young goat-herder named Kaldi noticed that his goats were pretty jumpy after eating berries from a nearby tree. This concerned Kaldi, because goat-herding is a full-time job, like parenting, and you don’t get to go to sleep until the goats do. Also, when the goats are jumpy, the fences are useless.
So logically, Kaldi tried the berries himself, because if the goats are eating it, and it’s making them jittery, then why not? And suddenly, he didn’t have a problem with them being up all night anymore. He couldn’t fall asleep. He tried counting the goats jumping over the fence, but it didn’t work. And the worry that they were escaping wasn’t helping either.
So after somehow getting all the goats back into the pen, which is not unlike stuffing helium balloons into the trunk of your car, he brought the berries to a Muslim elder. But the elder disapproved of them, probably because Kaldi woke him up at 4 in the morning to excitedly show him a handful of berries. So the elder threw them into the fire, and it smelled awesome. Everyone else in the area came running. They raked the beans from the fire, ground them up, dissolved them in hot water, and they all tried some. As you can imagine, the discovery of coffee was very exciting for all. They danced late into the night.
More Coffee Fun Facts
• In 1675, Charles II of England banned coffeehouses, claiming they were places where people met to conspire against him.
• It turns out that excessive amounts of coffee can make you paranoid.
• The ban didn’t work out anyway, because everyone instantly got together in bagel stores to conspire about how to bring back the coffeehouses.
• Coffee was brought to the New World in the 1600s (the World wasn’t really New, but it was New to them), but the colonists mostly drank tea, so the British wouldn’t get offended. But in 1773, to rebel against the taxes, the colonists held the Boston Tea Party, which is way more fun than it sounds. They switched the official national drink to coffee, drank a whole bunch of it, and spent the entire night dressed as Native Americans, jumping around and throwing tea into the harbor. (I wonder if this is what they do at the school “tea.” I’ve never gone.)
• Espresso was invented in the late 1800s, probably by a man named Sir Charles Espresso. With espresso, the grounds are finer and compressed into a dense puck, and hot water is forced through them under high pressure, making a “cchh” sound. Espresso is so strong that the recommended serving size is a schnapps cup.
• The process of making espresso must take more than 25 seconds, but less than 30, or else it becomes chametz—um, I mean regular coffee. This is why you need a special expensive machine, although you can probably also make “hand espresso” if you have easy access to a fire hose.
• The best way to stay up on a Shavuos night, if you’re trying to avoid coffee, is to fill the room with goats, and feed them coffee.
• Alternatively, you can spend Shavuos in Austria. Make sure to order the coffee cake. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.