Shavuot verses
Zohar lesson from erev Shavuot

Wednesday morning, 3 a.m.

This year, my little shul banded together with the shul up the road for a joint tikkun leyl Shavuot (late-night Shavuot study session.) We met at 8pm at the Williams College Jewish Religious Center -- good common ground. After a sweet evening service, we settled in for a series of six lessons:

  • "Song of Songs and Ruth: Two Songs of Love" with Cantor Robert Scherr;

  • "Continuing Revelation and Liturgical Change" with Karen, a fellow congregant from my shul;

  • "Zohar on the Hidden Light: Creation, Moses, and Late-Night Learning" (my humble contribution to the evening);

  • "Could Christian Traditions Have Impacted Shavuot?" with Rabbi Steve Gutow;

  • "Growing the Torah to Include the Lives of Gays and Lesbians" with Rabbi Jeff Goldwassser;

  • and "Live in the Layers, Not on the Litter: the Potry of Stanley Kunitz" with Rabbi Joshua Boettiger.

In between lessons, we schmoozed, and noshed on all kinds of goodies. Dairy is traditionally associated with the festival of Shavuot, so of course we ate that -- excellent Italian-style homemade cheesecake, e.g. (Though my favorite dairy treat this year had to be the espresso milkshakes. What could be more ideal for late-night learning?)

At least twenty people were present at the start of the night -- a terrific crowd for our small town. Though we tried to be timely, a few of our lessons ran a little overtime; we were just having too much fun learning with and from one another! We studied until just before two, and then had a sweet wrap-up -- we gathered again in the sanctuary (by now only about nine strong), removed the Torah from the ark, and passed it from one person to the next, an embodied symbol of the revelation and the covenant we share. We sang "Esa einai el he-harim" ("I lift my eyes up to the mountains"), our nod to the Sinai story, as we danced and cradled the scroll around the room. And then together we read a kaddish de rabbanan, the form of the kaddish recited after Torah study, with that paragraph I so love:

On the community of Israel, upon our rabbis and their students, and on all the students of their students, and on all who engage in Torah here and elsewhere, may there be peace for them and for you, grace and kindness and mercy and long life, and plentiful nourishment, and salvation, from our God in heaven, and let us say: Amen.

And then we grinned, and hugged, and did a spot of cleaning-up, and then I drove home under the amazing starry night sky humming my favorites among the niggunim (wordless melodies) we had sung over the course of the night.

I didn't take any notes; for once, I was too busy being present to act as transcriber. I can tell you that our lessons dovetailed as though we had designed them together; that the themes of the night included revelation, time, history, Torah, language, poetry, and the garments in which mystical experiences may be clothed; and that I came away feeling awed, moved, and deeply connected with my community and my Source.

Sometime soon I hope to post about my own teaching. I'll type up the passage from Zohar that I taught, and the questions and prompts and references it raised for me. For now, though, it's time for a holy Shavuot nap -- at least a few hours before I begin the new day! If anyone's reading this in the middle of the night, I hope your tikkun has been as delicious as ours was -- and to everyone, no matter when your eyes meet these words, I wish a sweet and joyous Shavuot.

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