Awake for Shavuot: Reaching and Reenacting Revelation

Did you ever dream that after much preparation you overslept and missed a big event? Well, that nightmare occurred to the rabbis when imagining what took place at Mount Sinai. The Torah recounts thunder and shofar blasts. Rather than reading that as a dramatic display of God’s power preceding God’s revelation, some rabbis imagined all the sounds as an attempt to awake a sleeping people (Song of Songs Rabbah 12:2). That midrash (rabbinic imagining) of close to 1500 years ago prompted the custom to stay up all night before Shavuot, both to make up for the past and in anticipation of reenacting the moment of revelation. And yet, tikkun leil Shavuot, “the repair of the night of Shavuot” would not become a widespread practice until the 16th century. Was it due to the rise of mysticism or the introduction of coffee to the West or both?

Today is the 45th day of the counting of the Omer, the seven weeks of preparation for receiving Torah. The count began on the second night of Passover. The 50th day, this coming Tuesday night, is arrival. Just as we are to see ourselves in each generation “as if we went out from Egypt” so too, are we to see ourselves standing at Mount Sinai. Preparation is essential to get the most out of an experience; so is, staying awake. May we do both, while prizing sleep. May we reach Shavuot with rejoicing. For it is Torah that has given us purpose as a people.