Sunday, August 18, 2019 -
Print Edition

Shavuot: A night of study and a life of commitment

The first time I fully experienced the glorious holiday of Shavuot was a balmy June night in Jerusalem. Determined to celebrate the ancient ritual of tikkun leil Shavuot  (staying up all night to study Torah and other sacred Jewish texts), my husband and I made the necessary childcare arrangements and drank cups of coffee with dinner in preparation for what we imagined would be a spiritual marathon.

I admit I was nervous, both about the sitter we hired (who knew less English than we knew Hebrew) and about the possibility that I might not be able to make it through the night without falling asleep over the texts.

The crowd of people outside the Pardes Institute where we chose to study buzzed with anticipation as we waited for the doors to open. The old timers came prepared with canteens of soda, thermoses of hot coffee and pillows to sit on. I brought some No-Doze, just in case.

We studied from the book of Exodus with great scholars like Dr. Aviva Zornberg and Rabbi Danny Landis. We discussed the revelation at Mt. Sinai, what it must have been like then and what it means to receive the Torah in our own day.

We struggled with the texts, interpreting difficult passages while plates of cookies and fruit were passed around the room. The hours flew by but instead of feeling tired, I was exhilarated by the many views that were shared.

The fact that we didn’t necessarily agree with one another was far less important than the act of grappling with the texts together, as Jews have done for thousands of years

About an hour before sunrise, we ended our study session and headed through the darkened streets towards the Old City. An ethereal dance of silhouettes moved all around us as thousands of people, many dressed in traditional chasidic black coats and hats, walked with the same goal in mind — to arrive at the Western Wall by sunrise in time to say the morning prayers.

The rest of this article is available in the IJN’s print edition only. Contact Carol to order your copy at (303) 861-2234 or email

Amy Lederman

IJN Columnist | Reflections

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