Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Staying Up All Night on Shavuot

I have a confession to make: I don't really enjoy staying up all night on Shavuot. Several days before Shavuot, I'd be in a kind of funk about it. It's not fun to be so tired that you can't keep your eyes open - and then to have to learn Torah during that time.
Truth be told, the original minhag is not just to stay up all night learning. Rather, there's a specific text, based originally on the Zohar, that is recited throughout the night of Shavuot called, "Tikkun Leil Shavuot." As a born-and-bred Ashkenazi, I'd never even heard of this text. But, when I got to Israel, I found that while we Ashkenazim learn in Chavrutot and sit through shiurim, the Sephardim sit around a huge table basically going through a huge book (while munching on nuts, rasins and assorted cakes.) I'm sure that there are Chassidim who recite this Tikkun as well, but, as I mentioned above, I had never even heard of it before moving to Israel.
When I was a shul rabbi, I really didn't have much of a choice. We needed to have a night-long program, and I needed to build it. People volunteered to teach, but I always gave the final shiur - the 4am to 5am slot. It seemed unfair to dump it on someone else.
But, to be honest, how much can one truly concentrate on prayer after having been awake all night? Add to that yetziv pitgam and you've got a mini-nap in Aramaic. I can't say that I was actually standing during the reading of the Ten Commandments during any of those years. Who remembers? And then we'd eat a quick bite, stumble home and fall into bed, while my wife had the enviable task of keeping the kids quiet while I tried to sleep. Chag Sameach!
In America, it's livable, because at least you have the second day to actually spend with your family. (The first day is completely shot). But in Israel, where we only observe one day of Yom Tov, the Tikkun Leil Shavuot kills the whole day - and the wy

So, for the past couple of years, I've done something a little a little different. I learn for a few hours, and then at about 2am, head to bed. After a good night's rest of six hours, I head to shul for a normal, pleasant, meaningful davening.
It's been terrific. This year I learned pirkei Avot from 10:30 - 11:00pm, Mishnah with Bezalel until about 12am, Gemara with Simcha until 1am, and then attended a shiur until 2am. (I say attended because while the shiur must have been good, I didn't catch all that much of it. Did I mention that it was in the middle of the night? I find it much easier to give a shiur at that time than to listen to one. I wonder what my audience thinks...)
Moreover, davening was really good - half-empty, but pleasantly quiet, and it was also one of the first times that Petachya followed the Torah reading together with me. We heard the Ten Commandments together, which was quite a meaningful experience, which I would not have had at 5am. (truthfully, I doubt I would have heard much of anything).

I mention all this because one of the blogs that I follow, but a young rabbi with a shul in Israel (he's anonymous - calls himself Rav Tzair), wrote about the fact that his whole shul followed this exact schedule. The shul ran a tikkun until 2am, and did not conduct and early, early minyan.

There's a place for staying up all night, if you can focus and concentrate while learning seriously, and it won't ruin your entire Yom Tov. Otherwise, getting some real learning in for a couple of hours, and then turning in for the night, seems like a good way to go.