The Midrash relates that the night before the giving of the Torah, all the Jewish people went to sleep. They slept so well and so deeply that they did not wake up the next morning in time to receive the Torah. G-d Himself came along and woke them up. To make up for this, it has become a Jewish custom to stay awake the entire night before Shavuot, studying Torah.
However, the Midrash is puzzling. How did it come about that the Jews overslept on such an important occasion? We know that they prepared for and eagerly anticipated the giving of the Torah. The forty-nine day period in which we count the Omer is in commemoration of the counting that the Jewish people did in anticipation of and preparation for receiving the Torah. For each of the forty-nine days they perfected a different character trait until they were ready to receive G-d’s gift.
There must be an explanation for their sleeping so deeply the night before this great event.
Chassidic teachings explain that their sleep had spiritual signiﬁcance. When a person goes to sleep, the soul ascends upward, and is able to access profound teachings of the Torah that are unavailable to it in a waking state. The Jews felt that, having done all that was within their own power to prepare for the Torah, they would now lie back and allow their souls to soar upward, to absorb those heavenly teachings.
Nevertheless, G-d was not pleased to ﬁnd them all asleep, despite their lofty intentions. Why?
On Mount Sinai, the Jews received the Torah, in which G-d commands the Jewish people to keep His mitzvot. In order to fulﬁll mitzvot, we make use of all sorts of physical objects. For example, we are commanded to take parchment made out of animal hide, inscribe it with words of Torah and hang it upon our doorpost—a mezuzah. On Sukkot, we take a citron and a palm branch, recite a blessing over them and shake them about, and we have fulﬁlled the mitzvah of lulav and etrog. And so on for all the commandments—we take a physical, ordinary object, and through performing a simple procedure, we transform it into something holy.
With this we can understand why G-d was displeased to ﬁnd them all asleep.
When one sleeps, the soul departs from the body, albeit a temporary separation. The soul is
spiritual; the body, physical. During sleep, physical and spiritual are separated, while the purpose of the giving of the Torah was to unite the two; to make them one entity. Therefore, as a preparation it would have been more appropriate for the Jews to choose an act that would lead to more association between body and soul, not less. In other words, they should have chosen to serve G-d in a manner that the soul resides in the body, bringing ever greater spiritual heights to the body and soul, in unison.
This story contains a profound lesson in how we are to prepare ourselves for the giving of the Torah. To reach a higher plane spiritually, we must concern ourselves with the most mundane. The way to rise is not through withdrawing from the physical world or ignoring its call and its needs. The truth is the reverse: only through tuning in to the needs of the person next to you, including his physical needs, can one ever hope to ascend to the heights of spirituality. This will be the most appropriate preparation for the giving of the Torah, with joy and gladness of heart, which will inspire us for the entire year.
(Based on an address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichos vol. 4, p. 1024-1027)