By Samantha Hulkower
Most Jewish holidays have some odd custom that perhaps we don't understand, but aren't really weirded out by it enough to not do it (such as eating a fish head on Rosh Hashana). Shavuot has a custom that is more familiar to college students than the rest of us - staying up all night learning. This was first done by Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai over 2,000 and then gained popularity again 400 years ago when the practice was resumed by the famed Kabbalist of Tzfat, the Arizal. Their motive was to make amends for (known as a Tikkun in Jewish parlance) the fact that the Jews overslept the morning they were supposed to receive the Torah.
How could 3 million Jews just oversleep like that, especially after they had been preparing for this the past 49 days?! There are numerous explanations given, but there is one that especially resonates with me. Not only had the Jews been preparing themselves to receive the Torah in the weeks since they left Egypt on Passover, but those efforts were put into overdrive when Moses told them that in 3 days time the big day was going to happen. He also gave them a few extra tasks to do to help get ready. The Jewish people had been working so hard for so long, that when the day finally came, they overslept. Hasn't that happened to most of us? We spend so much time working on a report, or getting our house ready for guests, or some big, exciting event, and when we get a second to recoup, we crash.
Life is often compared to a marathon, something we have to learn to pace ourselves in order to get through. If you're sprinting every time you have a big project in front of you, especially if you try to cram everything in the last few days before it's due, you're likely to collapse the second you stop running. You might want to give your all in order to have the best power point, or most delicious spread for your dinner party, but if you're too exhausted to give the presentation to your boss with enthusiasm, or to make it through dinner without yawning at your guests, was all that sprinting worth it? Shavuot is a reminder that the quality, and not just quantity, of preparation we do is important. It's especially easy before a big Jewish holiday, so when the time comes we're too tired to really enjoy what is going on around us.
This week, take some time to consider how you might fall into this trap, and ways to avoid it. It might seem like more time and effort to plan things out, but in the end, you'll have more time and energy for your project. And who knows, with enough preparation, you'll be able to join your friends staying up all night to learn, and not fall asleep in your cheesecake!
Samantha Hulkower is on sabbatical in the US from her sabbatical in Jerusalem. She's appreciating anxiously anticipating her aliya to Israel and trying to find the humor in every situation (especially dating). You can also view her blog on environmental issues in Israel here.