All Night Long

I have a confession to make … I don’t like Tikkun Leil Shavuot.

Never have.

I know that sounds heretical, but for me, I see nothing positive about trying to keep my eyes open at 3AM while listening to a shiur and dozing off during davening at 5AM.

The first time I stayed up all night on Erev Shavuot was when I was in college – the popularity of Tikkun Leil Shavuot was just beginning to surface, and it seemed like a pretty cool idea at the time.  But at some point in the middle of the night, I fell asleep in the corner of the room –and missed most of the learning and the davening.

And I haven’t participated in a full Tikkun since.

What I have done instead is attend the first session of the Tikkun program at 11AM, in order to be “yotzei” — and then go back home to go to sleep.  Shavuot always comes out at a time when the days are very long — so I have plenty of time after lunch and before mincha during the two days of yom tov to engage in some Torah learning on my own.  Without falling asleep.  Afterwards I can even squeeze in a nap before mincha!

I guess I need my sleep.  When friends of mine in high school and college bragged about pulling all-nighters to prepare for a test, I couldn’t understand the logic.  I’m a planner, and I tend to prepare for things in advance.  However, even if I was totally unprepared for a test, I’m certain that any knowledge that I might have gained by staying up all night would have been far outweighed by the lack of concentration and focus I would have because I didn’t sleep.  So I never pulled an all-nighter.

From a marketing perspective, I do greatly admire the Tikkun Leil Shavuot program.  It has brought an enormous number of people to shul to learn Torah who otherwise would not be attending shiurim.  Perhaps it’s the food in between the shiurim that draws them to the program.  Or avoiding a long yom tov davening the following morning.  Regardless, it’s truly amazing how many folks have been drawn to the idea of staying up all night to engage in serious study.

Even Conservative and Reform synagogues have now embraced the idea – and annually plan Tikkun Leil Shavuot programs of their own for their congregants.  Some communities, like Pittsburgh, have even organized communitywide events on Erev Shavuot where all denominations – including some Orthodox shuls — participate together in one program.

Perhaps it’s also because there is so much mysticism behind the Tikkun Leil Shavuot practice that it has never appealed to me, as I tend to be much more of a rationalist.  According to the Kabbalists, at midnight the heavens open and favorably receive the thoughts, study, and prayers of those who remain awake on the anniversary of the revelation. I’m wondering, though … if you fall asleep in the middle of the night, do you still get judged favorably?  If not, I think I’m better off in my bed!

The mystics claim that the Tikkun was likened to the hours of preparation prior to a wedding. The chapter headings in the anthology used for study were said to represent the jewels used to adorn a bride prior to her marriage, and the Tikkun itself was the bedeken ceremony that precedes the wedding.  That’s actually a very nice explanation, especially since Sinai is often compared to a wedding between God and the Jewish people.

Still, it’s difficult for me to get excited about this popular practice.  So this year, as I’ve done in years past, I attended the regular morning minyan on the first day of yom tov, which each year seems to shrink in attendance as more and more folks attend the Tikkun.  And that’s fine with me. I prefer doing my learning and davening with my eyes open.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at
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