This past Saturday night, on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, over 300 young Jewish men and women flocked to MJE to participate in an age-old custom of staying up all night to study Torah. The learning part of the program began at 10:30 pm and continued until 4:45 am at which point our whole group ascended to the rooftop of MJE’s headquarters on West 86th Street to pray at sunrise. Other than MJE’s trips to Israel each year, this event is my favorite and I think I finally figured out why.
The custom to stay up all night , known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot has its source in the Midrash, an important part of rabbinic literature, which relates that the night before the Torah was given at Sinai, the Israelite’s retired early to be well-rested for the momentous day ahead. They overslept and Moses had to wake them up because God was already waiting on the mountaintop. To rectify this perceived flaw, many stay up all night to learn Torah. I doubt most people make the decision to stay up all night for this reason alone. To be sure, the Starbucks coffee, delicious cheesecake and opportunity to meet that someone special were also factors at play at MJE, but the feeling of being in a room with so many people studying the Almighty’s wisdom all night long totally inspires me. How often do we block out all the noise and distractions around us and make a time to hear some wisdom from above? We live in a world inundated with human wisdom which desperately needs to be balanced by a spiritual perspective, one that takes into account not only the future but also our rich past. Technology and science must be embraced as they bring so much light and goodness into our lives, but divorced from our religious faith, they only explain the what’sof our existence and leave us wondering about the why’s.
Judaism doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but it’s got quite a few. Staying up all night trying to figure out the why’s and ultimately how we can bring more meaning into our lives and into the world around us is a really great way to spend our time, even if it takes all night.