Visions of Sinai '19

Shavuot Inspiration by Dasee Berkowitz

Dasee Berkowitz is a writer living in Jerusalem with her husband and kids. She is a frequent contributor to JTA, Times of Israel, Forward.com and Kveller.com. This post is from the Renaissance Project, May 12, 2015


It’s been a long time since I stayed up all night at a tikkun leil Shavuot (the tradition of studying late into the night on Shavuot.)  And while there are already so many sleepless nights with young kids, whenever 10 pm rolls around, it’s hard to find me awake, let alone ready to engage in an all night study session.

The tikkun for Shavuot eve was a corrective to the Israelite’s lack of preparation the night before revelation at Sinai.  Tradition has it, that the children of Israel were fast asleep.  So as a tikkun, (literally, corrective), we stay up.  We study.  We pray.  We have gain new insights and have moments of clarity and revelation.  We are inspired.

Or, we go to sleep having swept up the last crumbs of cheesecake off the floor.

When I think back to the different tikkunim I went to before I had kids, what I remember more than any one insight I gleaned or piece of text I learned is the experience.  At 3am, in a half groggy state, my defenses were down, I spoke more softly, I was attuned to a quiet both outside and in.  I became more aware of the unknown and unknowable.  Becoming aware of the mystery of life is something that a religious life can offer us.  But when that religious life is happening in the light of day, there’s a hustle and bustle that is inevitable (take Shabbat mornings for example, there is so much more going on than connecting to God at synagogue.)  Sometimes you need nocturnal wakenings to cultivate that level of awareness.

I’m also aware of the mystery of life when I am nursing a baby at 3am.  And when I am (and even now after finally sleep training my youngest), I have a Shavuot tradition that I do at home.  It’s something that I learned from a Rabbi friend of mine in New York and it’s called “Finding your Uni-verse.”  In the quiet of Shavuot evening, I open up the Hebrew bible (or Chumash) and point to a word or a phrase.  With no planning of premeditation, I open myself up to the unknown.  What will the Torah say to me this Shavuot, what are the messages that I need to hear?  What do I need to work on?  How will I carry that message into my life so that the Torah’s words become something that I live by?

One year, the message was obvious “Moadei A-donai” – “God’s festivals.”  I thought of it every holiday – I was so busy preparing for the holiday, and becoming stressed that I wouldn’t get everything done, or that my children and husband were always ‘in the way’, that I didn’t make room space for anything holy.  The reframing helped.   The goal of celebrating the holiday, I reminded myself each time, is to bring a bit more holiness into the world, not to make the perfect cheese soufflé.

Another year it was “et” which is roughly translated as “toward/ to” (as in, speaking to someone).  That year it got me thinking about the “space in between.”  When I speak to someone, do I only think about what they can do for me? Or do I leave room for the possibility of being transformed by the conversation?  I became more aware of how I listened to others that year.

The words or phrases that we point to might seem completely irrelevant to us at first, but probe a little bit deeper and I bet there will be some way of connecting to them.  And in the deep of the night, when we are more open and reflective, it will be easier to understand even the most irrelevant connections.

But the real learning for me, is how the mysteries that are revealed to me at night get lived out in the light of day.

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