In the Middle of the Night: Celebrating the Torah on Shavuot

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, May 8, 2020 / 14 Iyar 5780

THROUGH A LENS OF FIRE: Hasidic Insights on the Torah
continues on Wednesday May 13th at 12:30 pm. Please check the CNS calendar for the most up to date Zoom link. We have had some technical difficulties and our admin team is hopeful that they are now properly addressed.

Summary: In this week’s Oasis Songs, I want to teach a bit about the origins of the custom to stay up late learning Torah on the night of Shavuot, and share some information about upcoming Shavuot learning opportunities, including some world class scholars who will be leading some sessions for us.

I have been ruminating for some time on a statement often ascribed to Winston Churchill, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” It’s one of the lenses I continue to use during this pandemic. Although there is no evidence that Churchill said this, the wisdom remains. A crisis often allows us to get things done that were not possible before. It can loosen up institutional or personal blockages. In short, the crisis is bad, but we can redeem it somewhat by making other important and worthwhile changes.

I am inspired by the many ways our CNS professional staff and lay leaders have operated instinctively under that statement’s banner. From education, young family programming, reimagined shabbat services, a robust daily online minyan, new classes and so much more, CNS rallied to find new ways for us to gather, learn, celebrate and maintain the admirable strength of our community.

One of the side benefits that quarantine has created is that we all expect to participate in many activities remotely, and that certain halakhic leniencies have been enacted for this period of crisis. That allowed some dreaming to occur when thinking about our annual Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which I will recount a bit further on.

As background, the origins of the Shavuot Tikkun arose in the mystical circles of our medieval kabbalists. To understand this, it’s important to know that in Hebrew, tikkun means “to repair or fix,” while in Aramaic, it means “to adorn.” The practice of staying up late—or even all night on the first night of Shavuot, can first be documented after the publication of the Zohar. In short, there is some traditional belief that on the night of revelation, we Jews fell asleep at the foot of the mountain. To “fix” that failing of nodding off during God’s lecture, we stay up all night on Shavuot, which is when we commemorate God’s revelation to us accompanied by the giving of the Torah. Additionally, our learning is itself an adornment to the Torah.

This is, unsurprisingly, oh so Jewish. We are still making amends for an error made thousands of years ago by taking personal responsibility for something we individually didn’t do. Yet the responsibility we take on improves us, helping us to learn and grow. We also become adorned in this way. Pretty cool.

Since the novel Coronavirus virus is forcing us all to stay at home, this was a wonderful opportunity to reach beyond our community for people to lead our learning sessions. I am so pleased that we have a stellar line up of scholars for our Thursday, May 28th Tikkun. The Yizkor service begins at 6 pm; learning sessions will start at 7 pm and run for 50 minutes or so with a few minutes break.

Confirmed so far are Rabbi Shawn Fields Meyer (a CNS alum!), rabbi and author, Miriyam Glazer, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinics and vice president of the American Jewish University. I am still waiting for a hard confirmation from Rabbi Elliot Dorff, who is teaching at another tikkun. He is one of the Conservative movement’s top ethicists and legal authorities and wants to teach us about some of the approaches and solutions that the movement has made in response to COVID-19.

Additionally, our own Carol Isaak will be presenting photographs of wonder, including images by Sharon Perrin, Sally Segal and other photographers around the country.

There will also be family programming on that Saturday, and a cooking class on that Friday. Please look for a more formal announcement. Information about some changes to Yizkor also has been and will be publicized, so look out for that as well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. On those nights you can’t sleep, what do you read, think about or do?
  2. What is the last Jewish book you have read? What is the next Jewish book on your personal reading list?
  3. When were you recently inspired by a moment of insight or wonder?

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.

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