Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shavuot Stories


Shavuot is ahead and this Tuesday night, thousands of Jews are going to study the night through and thus doing their "Tikkun Leil Shavuot". Shavuot is the Jewish holiday where G - d gave the Torah to the Jews at Mount Sinai (Har Sinai) and our task is to accept the Torah with the same enthusiasm, as our ancestors did. 

The Talmud Tractate Shabbat 88 teaches that, at Har Sinai, the Jews didn't fully accept the Torah but rather out of fear. The moment they fully accepted the Torah was in Shushan when Haman prepared his extermination attempt but the Jews were saved by Esther and Mordechai.

Shavuot is a nice holiday with so much joy and great Shiurim at night. Even in secular Tel Aviv, secular Jews love to participate in the famous "Tikkun Leil Shavuot" and religious lectures will be crowded. Of course, what is missing in the Tel Aviv but Jerusalem easily provides: The walk to the Kotel (Western Wall) at 4am on Wednesday. Thousands of Jews will be going to the Kotel throughout the entire night and pray Shacharit. 

I am not the kind of person staying awake an entire night in order to study. I have done this in the past with the result that my Shavuot was finished. I felt bad, went to bed and hardly got up for a very late Kiddush and lunch. 

A famous Jewish custom on Shavuot is "eating dairy products" such as cheese cake, cheese, milk, yoghurts or even lasagne. But be aware that the prices for those products will be up before Shavuot !

The question I am asking myself before every Shavuot is whether I am ready for the festival. There is this feeling of getting ready and being ready for the Torah. Am I ready ? I would rather not think about an answer.:-)

But the festival of Shavuot always reminds of my worst Shavuot ever taking place at the haredi neighbourhood of Kiryat Mattersdorf in Jerusalem. 

It was on Shavuot in 1997, when I was still studying with the national religious but started moving over into a haredi direction. Some girls from a haredi Ba'alei Teshuva Seminary located in Kiryat Mattersdorf invited me to stay with them on Shavuot. In Israel, Shavuot only consists of one day whereas in the Diaspora, Shavuot is being celebrated on two days.

"Well, on day or a few hours with the haredi girls I can manage", I thought. In case if not, I could walk back to my seminary dormitory any time, as it wasn't too far away. 

I went to Kiryat Matterdorf but already on the way, I started feeling sick. Not because of the frum surrounding but because I had caught a virus. When I arrived at the seminary, the girls sent me to lay down in order to feel better in the evening. The plan was to go to some families for dinner. 

I didn't feel better but worse. Fever and the feeling of throwing up any minute. Shavuot seemed to be over for me but nor according to my roomate. My roomate for the day was a German woman and the first thing she did when she entered the room was spotting out Muktzeh items such as pens on a table and throwing them aside. I wouldn't have touched those pens anyway. 

My Shavuot got worse. I was sick and at the edge of sticking my head into the toilet and this German woman announced that she had organized a dinner invitation with her friends. I must come because it is a holiday and we have to fulfill our Mitzvah. However, my only Mitzvah seemed to consist of staying in bed or at least near a toilet. 

She dragged me to this family and I remember that they were very nice indeed. What I cannot remember is any name or face. I think they were litvish and I was sitting half unconscious at the table and trying not to throw up over the Kiddush cups. I remember this great lasagne they served and I even had a small piece. The rest of my memory is gone and the only thing I remember is my roommate telling me all about this family and how I should behave.

I think I fell asleep at the table and finally made it back to bed at the seminary. Then the next shocking announcement took place: The walk to the Kotel in the morning. 

I didn't go but stayed in bed. At noon I got so fed up with seeing those who hadn't gone to the Kotel sitting and saying Tehillim (Psalms) that I just left. The girls were worried whether I can make it make alone but I managed. I just wanted to escape from those rules, sticky atmosphere, good behaviour and pressure. 

Back at my own seminary dormitory, my roommates were happy and having discussions. No Tehillim, no "Do this, do that" but fun. I went back to bed but got up after an hour. Suddenly I felt much better and after another hour or two, I was healthy again. The virus seemed to be gone and I myself couldn't believe it.

It was the first time I realized that one may be perfect in one way and doing all the holiday programmes from the beginning until the end; however, sometimes I wish there was a little more Rachmunes (mercy) with those who have a different mind set or are just not as "perfect" as others. We all have our potential and should try using it. But my potential is not that of this particular roommate dragging me to the lasagne and my potential is not spending an entire day with the "Book of Tehillim".


  1. To be sure that one is ready, he has to refine his/her 49 middos prior Shavuos, durant the 49 days of the Omer.

    Once one has achieved that, s/he knows that s/he is ready for Shavuos.

  2. You really never ever heard about that? I'm astonished!

    To prepare for Shavuos, we must refine our 49 middos, one per day, corresponding to the 49 levels of tumah and the 49 Sefirah combinations. It is said that when the Jews left Mitzrayim, they had reached the 49th level of tumah. If they had stayed much longer, they would have reached the last level of tumah, the 50th, so G-d took them out of Egypt before the time (He told Avraham that the Jews would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years, while the Jews were slaves 240 years). This explain why they didn't not believe Moshe Rabbeinu when he told them that he was the redeemer. So, every year, before celebrating the Matan Torah, we refine our 49 middos through daily self-improvement exercices and activities.

    I don't know if you count the Omer with a blessing (there is a debate wheither women can make the blessing, adn wheither they can count the Omer), but each day we count, we correspond the day with the specific middah attached to the day.

    I know you really like Kabbalah, so read here for more information:

    And for the daily exercices we do during the Sefirah period to refine our 49 middos in the 49 days period leading to Shavuos, read here:

    So, next year, during Pessach and Shavuos, you will refine your middos to be fully prepared for receiving the Torah in state of purity and refinement.

    But I'm surprised you never heard about the refinement of the 49 middos in the Sefirah period!

  3. B"H

    Thanks for the links !!!

    Of course I knew about the concept of the Gates of Tumah and if the Jews hadn't left Egypt, it would have been too late. What I didn't know about is the concept of correcting your Middot before Shavuot. Today I am preparing some Shavuot article and maybe I find something on the concept in the Chabad book "Sha'arei HaMoadim".:-)

    My Omer counting is complicated although I am promising every year anew to improve. In the evenings I mostly forget but count the Omer in the mornings without the Bracha.

  4. "Sha'arei HaMoadim"

    A very good book about the Jewish calendat and events.

    "My Omer counting is complicated although I am promising every year anew to improve. In the evenings I mostly forget but count the Omer in the mornings without the Bracha"

    Promising to improve is the first step that shows that you really want it. This is like the Teshuvah process. Just having a desire to repent is already the first step toward repentance, even if not fully accomplished. So, do not give up by telling you that "Every year I promise, but I always miss the target."

    As for forgetting to count, this is precisely one of the reasons why some Poskim held that women should not count the Omer, to begin with, because first of all, most women don't daven Maariv in shuls so they are likely to forget (one of the rasons why men generally don't miss a night, is because they hear the Shaliach Tzibbur counting the Omer during Maariv service in the synagogue), and secondly, when you know in advance that you are likely to forget, some hold that you shouldn't even begin counting. It also applies to men who don't daven Maariv in shuls or who know in advance they are likely to miss a day or more of the Omer. Now, those who permit women to count say that, unlike past generations, nowadays we have calendars, so that even if you don't daven Maariv in shuls, thanks to the calendar in your home, and e-mail reminders, and text message services, one is less likely to forget counting. And said with humour (so, don't take it personnal), you are the proof that despite all the nowadays reminders, there is nothing better than going at the shul to davn Maariv and listening the count through the Shaliach Tzibbur :-)

  5. B"H

    Did I get this right ? It is not customary to read Megillath Ruth in Chabad ?

  6. "Did I get this right ? It is not customary to read Megillath Ruth in Chabad ?"

    No, you didn't get it right. The Megillas Ruth is read in Chabad, but unlike most communities, it is not read in public, but in the Tikkun Leil Shavuos. That's the difference. So each one read it for himself on the night of the festival, while it is read publicly in the course of Shacharis service on Shavuos in most communities.

    It is known that we are different in many aspects, and this is one of the differences.

    In Chabad, we also don't say the Akdamus.

    Since Shavuos falls not on a named date, but the Torah only says on the fiftieth day of the Omer which each individual is obliged to count independently, a person who gains or loses a day by crossing the international dateline during Sefirah has the problem of when to celebrate Shavuos. (It is explained at length in a sicha of Parshas Emor in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, [p. 995ff.], where the Rebbe expresses his view that in such a case Shavuos should be observed on the fiftieth day as counted by each individual. [See also Vol. VII, pp. 285, 291, 294.])

  7. B"H

    Reading the Megillah on Leil Shavuot is a very nice custom because in the Synagogues during Shacharit, who is actually following the Megillah in dephts ? Everything goes so fast; you hear it but but, as I said, it goes fast and there is no time for deeper thoughts and understanding.

  8. That's the precise reason why we don't read the megillah at Shacharis but only on Leil Shavuos, everyone by his/her own, without rushing, ans even in reading and studying the meforshim, as we have to stay awake the all night, we have the time to do everythinq at our pace.

    As for the speedy davening, we have a rule in chasidus that we should take one hour to be prepared before the davening (in the Lubavitch community of Paros, the preparation should last 1 hour and a half), and our davening should last at least one hour and no less. There are some special Kavanos to have while davening, and it prevents us from a speedy davening. It is generally known that the hallmark of Chabad Chasidism is praying at length, with deep intentions, the reading of prayers in the Siddur being interspersed with pauses for disciplined meditation from memory on related texts in Chassidus we studied before davening.

  9. I wrote "Paros" while I meant "Paris"