A Note from Rav Barry on Shavuot

This month we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, when we commemorate God giving the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Of all the Jewish holidays, Shavuot is the one that is most different in Jerusalem than in other places. For many Jews living in the Diaspora, Shavuot is a holiday they don’t notice all that much. We don’t have any special widely-followed customs such as having a seder, or eating in booths, or lighting Chanukah candles. For reasons that are somewhat obscure even to rabbis, there’s a custom to eat dairy meals on Shavuot.

What makes Shavuot so special in Jerusalem is that there’s also a custom to stay awake studying all night on Shavuot. This is a practice started by the kabbahlists, the Jewish mystics, in Safed, in northern Israel in the 16th century. The reason for studying all night is the Torah says that on the day the Torah was given there was thunder and lightning. The midrash says this is because the people slept in, and God had to wake them up to give them the Torah! We stay up all night studying to show that unlike our ancestors, we are so eager for Torah we don’t need to be woken with thunder and lightning.

On the night of Shavuot, all across Jerusalem there is world class Torah study available, for free, all night long. I usually go from one place to another place, what we call “tikun hopping,” picking which lectures I’m most interested in hearing. At 4 am something miraculous happens: If you didn’t know where the Kotel, the Western Wall, was you could find it just by following the stream of people from all over the city, walking to the Western Wall, to hear the Ten Commandments recited at dawn at our holiest place, after staying awake all night studying. It’s a truly incredible experience.

We can’t quite reproduce that in Birmingham, but we’ll try to get a taste of it through studying into the night, from 7 pm to 11 pm. Click here to see a description of our program for the evening, “Standing at Mount Sinai as Conservative Jews,” an exploration of the way in which we hear God’s revelation. I hope you can join us.

Rav Barry



Rav Barry’s D’Var Torah

Shabbat Balak Sermon – July 23, 2016

Shabbat Matot-Masei Sermon – Aug. 6, 2016

Shabbat Vayashev Sermon – Dec. 24, 2016