Monday, May 17, 2010

Happy Shavuot

Tomorrow evening begins the holiday of Shavuot.  Unlike the festivals of Passover and Sukkot there is no seder to prepare and no sukkah to build and so Shavuot is the least observed of our major holidays and probably as well the least well known.  This is rather ironic given that the holiday celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  Then again given that the central act of Shavuot is studying rather than eating one can understand why it is less compelling than the other holidays.  (To learn more about Shavuot visit Tablet Magazine’s website.)

Nonetheless Torah is central to our lives, specifically Talmud Torah, the study of Torah.  It has never been the mere act of reading Torah that is so important but studying and pouring over its words year in and year out.  This of course is the essence of the weekly Torah reading cycle.

The mystical tradition of kabbalah gives us what has become one of the most important customs of the holiday, Tikkun L’eil Shavuot, an all night study session.  Like preparing for a college final exam, the mystics spent the entire evening immersed in studying Torah in preparation to receive the Torah anew.

Interestingly people rarely translate the word “tikkun” when explaining this custom.  The term means “repair” and is most often associated with the mystical phrase, “tikkun olam,” repair of the world, now linked with social action.  The mystics however believed that tikkun olam was connected to observance and in particular the study of Torah rather than social action.  Through the study of Torah, they argued, we repair the world.

That study and learning can help to transform the world is a centerpiece of Jewish belief.  For the mystics, studying alone repaired.  For me study must lead to action.  The Talmud asks: “Which is greater, study or action?”  The Rabbis answered, “Study is greater, because it leads to action.” We hope that our study we will not only better ourselves but our world.  May our study help us to repair our world!

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