Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Staying up on Shavuos night

I always thought that when I left the shul rabbinate I would stop staying up through Shavuos night. The practice wrecks the rest of Yom Tov, it’s hard to really learn anything after a certain time of night, my wife then needs to bring the kids to shul herself the next morning… it really seems like a case of יצא שכרו בהפסדו.

Nonetheless, this year I will be up all night once again, Gd-willing; I’m set to deliver shiurim to several different groups around Thornhill, and so I’ll be teaching or walking all through the night. Assuming my cold lets up and my voice holds out, anyway.

Why in the world am I doing this?

I guess part of it is the standard expectation for my position, just like it was when I was in the rabbinate.
And part of it is that when the emails started coming, inviting me to teach on Shavuos night, I was too flattered to decline.
And part of it is the inertia that comes with minhag; I’ve been staying up Shavuos night for decades already.

But I do wish I could break free of this practice, with its exhaustion and its corrosive effect on Shavuos. Nonetheless, it has stayed, like the beard and the white shirt/charcoal gray slacks/tie wardrobe, things I thought I would drop upon leaving the rabbinate, until leaving the rabbinate meant entering the rosh kollelate. [Re: Wardrobe - I realized the other day that I have worn a button-down shirt, slacks and a tie every waking minute I have been in Toronto since last August. This is frightening, and I use that word precisely.]

And yet, and yet – there is a positive side to the sleepless night, if the shiurim go well: The walk home after minyan in the morning.

That next morning, with the early light and the fresh air and the chirping birds and the fulfilled high that comes from a night well-spent and an untrammeled shacharis/musaf davened with real kavvanah and a sense of genuine kabbalas hatorah and free of the chatter and clutter of a later minyan… that feels right. It feels good. Maybe even better than hitting the mattress afterward.

Maybe that’s also why I keep coming back. And maybe it will be enough to make me do it again next year, in ירושלים.


  1. Maybe I keep coming back because there are a lot of people to whom it makes a statement about learning - even if they aren't devoted all year round to the centrality of limud torah (see the VBM's shavuot package, the R' AL sicha), they stay up one night for it to make some statement about themselves and sometimes that's more important than whether the objective result is more or less than not staying up (and of course someone has to give shiur!)
    Joel Rich

  2. This year, Shavuos falls during finals week and the students voted to end the learning at 1:30 am, so I will be able to go to sleep at a relatively normal hour, and avoid all of the downsides to the "all nighter." However, I'm still not sure I will anyway. That sense of Kabalas Hatorah which you wrote about, is there...
    Wish me luck,
    Gut Yom Tov

  3. Joel-
    Good point; add it to the list of reasons to stay up... but I still wish I didn't need to do it.

    Duly wished, and have a great Yom Tov!