A rabbinic legend tells the story of when God came down on Mount Sinai and found the whole camp of the Children of Israel were asleep! In order to make up for missing our alarms that day, the tradition has developed the custom of staying up all night studying Torah so that we are ready in the morning for that Great Arrival. This practice – which some scholars say developed along with the popularization of coffee (!) – is called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, The “Fixing” of the Night of Shavuot.
What is Shavuot?
It’s the biggest Jewish holiday you may never have heard of. Originally an agricultural event, Shavuot (literally, ‘weeks’) was the culmination of a growth cycle that began with Passover, the Festival of Spring, and ended just before the summer with a celebration of the first harvest. But over the course of time, Shavuot became primarily remembered as the day the Torah was revealed at Mount Sinai. That makes the journey from Passover to Shavuot (which we mark by counting the Omer, see below), a movement from Liberation to Revelation. On Passover, we celebrate our freedom. On Shavuot we begin to confront the essential question: So what will we do with our freedom?
Torah from Shavuot’s in the past: 2min 53sec of Silence that Scream – Rabbi Sharon Brous
Pre-Shavuot Learning: No Bread, No Torah – Parshat Emor
Counting the Omer
The Counting of the Omer (Sefirat Ha-Omer) is the Torah’s way of marking the time between Passover and Shavuot, the journey from liberation to revelation. The tradition is to count both the days (49) and the weeks (7) leading up to Shavuot, starting on the second night after Passover. Originally an agricultural ritual, Sefirat Ha-Omer has evolved into a spiritual practice, a kind of daily meditation that prepares us to receive the wisdom of the Torah once again.
Here are two guides to counting the Omer: English / Hebrew
The Study of Ethics
It is also a custom to study Pirkei Avot, the classic rabbinic teachings on Ethics, during the period between Passover and Shavuot. The idea is to ready ourselves for an encounter with Torah by working on our personal moral growth. This year, we studied those chapters with the help of the Hassidic Masters, in a series called “Ethics of the Mystics.” Check out those classes here:
The Ethics of the Mystics Week 1: Searching for the Good in Everyone – Even Yourself!
The Ethics of the Mystics Week 2: Striving to be Average!