There’s something to be said for all-nighters that end up in prayer… and not at the 24-hour IHOP in Brighton.
For those of you who went to school around here, you know exactly what I’m talking about. While my undergrad days are now over a decade behind me, I’ll never forget the drives from Waltham to IHOP as the sun was rising, eating a healthy (umm… not healthy) meal at around 6 am, and then returning home to crash until mid-afternoon.
That was a long time ago. The only time I see the dawn now is when I can muster up the energy to go the gym at 5 am or when one of my kids has decided to wake up super-early.
Why is this relevant? Because Shavuot is coming.
Shavuot has a lot of angles. There’s the dairy foods angle (from the expression eretz zavat chalv u’dvash– a land flowing with milk and honey). There’s the receiving-the-Ten-Commandments angle. There’s the Hebrew High School Confirmation angle. There’s the surprising-day-off-from-Jewish-schooling angle. But one of the more interesting ways in to Shavuot is that of a Tikun Leil Shavuot– an all-night study fest to celebrate the Israelites’ (reported) all-nighter the night before receiving the Torah at Sinai.
Disclaimer: that’s not exactly the most robust definition of a Tikun Leil Shavuot but I’m going to let it ride for now.
Shavuot is one of those holidays whose meaning has evolved over time. In its earliest iteration, when we read about the holiday in Leviticus, we understand Shavuot to be rooted in the cycle of agriculture and harvest. Coming at the end of the seven week Omer period after Passover, at Shavuot we celebrate the wheat harvest and bring offerings of challot and bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple in Jerusalem. This is indeed a far cry from the ice-cream sundae and confirmation associations that began this post.
Later on, though, with the destruction of the Second Temple and the mishna-ization and gemara-fication of Judaism, Shavuot came to have a much different focus: a holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel. We honor that idea now by embracing the Torah and the traditions of teaching, learning, and study at Shavuot.
Shavuot today is truly a holiday about Jewish Education.
The evolution of Shavuot to a holiday in which we commemorate the receiving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments at Sinai has given us an opportunity to celebrate learning in a way that no other holiday provides us with. Recent years have seen a proliferation of the Tikun Leil Shavuot idea in American Judaism- off the top of my head I can think of at least 6-10 that I’ve heard about already for this year, including one in Cambridge at Harvard Hillel and a huge community one in Brookline at Kehillath Israel that I attended and led a session at last year. There is certainly something to be said about celebrating Shavuot in this interesting way, engaging in Torah study in a unique setting (although the study isn’t necessarily about Torah but also embraces other topics within Judaism).
As many of us have no doubt felt in our lives, the power of celebrating and marking our festivals and occasions with others is much greater than celebrating them alone… Shavuot is no different. So for those of you who haven’t attended a Tikun Leil Shavuot that concludes with a sunrise Shacharit overlooking Boston (this happens at Robbins Farm Park in Arlington and Summit Park in Brookline each year, and I’m sure in many other places as well), why not take a chance this year?
For a full list of resources, locations of Tikun Leil Shavuot, and other Shavuot-related information, make sure to visit www.jewishboston.com/shavuot.