Thursday, June 9, 2011


“Three times a year, on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and on the Feast of Booths—all of you shall appear before Hashem your God in the place of God’s choosing.”
                                             --Parashat Re’eh, Deuteronomy 16:16

I did not take this picture, but this is what  the crowd looked like.
The Festivals in Judaism are sometimes called the “Shalosh Regalim, The Three Pilgrimages.”  It literally means the three legs, because the Torah envisions the Jewish people walking from all over the land to celebrate together in Jerusalem.

On the holiday of Shavuot, which primarily celebrates the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, I truly felt like a part of the sacred pilgrimage.  At 4:30 AM, literally thousands of people descend upon the Kotel (the Western Wall) after an all night study session to pray and read Torah.  To see the throngs descending was really an awe-inspiring sight.  Trying to move around amongst that zoo, I mean, assembly of people, is another story entirely, but more on that in a moment.

Our night began with a delicious dairy meal, as is the custom for Shavuot, at a four boy family house.  This family is from Boston, spending the year in Israel.  Also present was one of America’s foremost Kabbalah scholars, Professor Hecker of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia.  He, too, is spending the year in Israel.   The company, the food, the fact that there were boys there for my guys to play with, and the nuggets from the Zohar brought forth by Professor Hecker would have been enough, Dayenu.

All Night Study Session
But then I attended an all night study session at Pardes, an egalitarian Yeshiva which was open to the public that night.  At TBA, and at most synagogues in America, we start at 8 and go just past midnight.  I always teach last because I’m usually the only one willing to stay up that late to teach.  Here in Israel, the teaching doesn’t start until 11 PM, and it goes until 4 AM.  And the energy level was there all night long.  I attended four different seminars, each one, dayenu, filled with beautiful and challenging wisdom from amazing teachers of Torah.  

The night began with Professor Judy Klitsner teaching about crimes and addictions based on the story of King Ahab killing a man named Navot because he wanted his vineyard.  I then studied with Professor Devora Steinmetz (and about 200 other people), comparing the story of the heretic Elisha ben Abuya with the Book of Ruth.  Finally, we learned from Rabbi Daniel Landes about the nature and theology of the machloket, which means disagreement, in Rabbinic literature.

The Most Tired I've Ever Been
I was exhausted, of course, not only because I am certainly not used to staying up all night, but also because I slept very poorly the night before.  You don’t want to go into an all nighter already sleep-deprived, but for those who know me well, it was not a surprise.  I am a poor sleeper, in general, and I often joke that very few people can beat me in a "tired" contest and that "this is the most tired I've ever been."  Every once in a while I'll just wake up in the middle of the night, and it will take me about 3-4 hours to fall back to sleep.  The night  before Erev Shavuot was one of those nights.   So I wasn't sure I was going to make it all night long, but I was determined.  Yet the teachings were so engaging (and the air conditioner turned up so high) that I had no problem staying awake.

Thousands of People  
Then, as I mentioned above, I joined several thousand other Jerusalemites as we made our way to the Wall at about 4:30 AM.  The sight was amazing; the experience once there not so much.  I did manage to dart and sneak and push and shove my way to the Wall itself (quite a feat), but after what preceded it, it was a bit anti-climactic and not a whole lot of fun.  Still, overall, I just need to appreciate what was truly one of the holiest nights of my life!

Finally, mazel tov to all the TBA children who attended 18 or more services and received their prizes last night.  I’m so proud of you!

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