n the secular world, Shavuos doesn’t garner the same attention as some of our more famous holidays, but I’ve found that of all our Yamim Tovim, it’s the one that can forge the richest memories. Shavuos and I have had a long-standing relationship. Some years are stronger than others. But throughout the years, as I have matured, my concept of Shavuos has grown up beside me.
Did you hear that the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst has an omelet station? As a teenager growing up in the Five Towns, Shavuos night was basically an all-night buffet sprinkled with some intermittent learning. After all, it’s hard to imagine yourself learning at 3 a.m. fortified only with BBQ Dipsy Doodles and sponge cake. My friends and I would map out all of the shuls within walking distance and do some deep-dive reconnaissance research to figure out the what and when of each shul’s buffet. And after a long night of eating, it’s just a matter of time before you crash into a Shavuos night food coma. This is where the real Shavuos learning began — with the prime lesson of how to construct a makeshift bed inside of the shul beis medrash. Pushing six chairs together so you can lie down properly might not yield the intense learning experience your parents hoped for, but with a six-chaired shluff you can be sure that when you wake up, you can be motzi everyone in birchos hashachar.
Going into Shavuos night in yeshivah, I always had incredible ambitions. Those long Pnei Yehoshuas I skipped during seder — I’ll finish those Shavuos night. Then, once I’m finished with those, I can chazer all of last year’s masechta. Maybe, since we’ll probably have extra time, I’ll get a head start on next year’s masechta. And each year I would sit down with incredible fervor. Fifteen minutes in, those six cups of coffee start to hit you, and you excuse yourself to the restroom. An hour in, it’s “let’s take a quick break, they just put out rugelach.” Two hours in, you wake up and you’re covered in cinnamon-scented crumbs. My Shavuos night ambitions may have never lived up to my initial dreams, but I eventually learned how to make more of the night. Along with my chavrusa, Rabbi Beni Burstein, we would learn something special from beginning to end on Shavuos night. One year we learned chapter 67 of the Maharal’s Tiferes Yisrael, about the halachah of a sefer Torah missing a letter. There he rules that a sefer Torah, even missing a letter, still has the status of a sefer Torah. I may have been missing some minutes during those long nights, but they still held the status of a full night of learning.
While I was in yeshivah, my rebbi Rav Tzvi Berkowitz once asked why we stay up all night on Shavuos night. If you do the math, you don’t really learn that much more over the 24-hour period of Yom Tov. If the goal is talmud Torah, it would make more sense to learn for a bit, get a full night’s sleep, and then learn the following afternoon. His answer was short and powerful. We stay up all night, he explained, because when you’re in love, you do crazy things. I don’t think I fully appreciated the depth of his explanation until I was married. Staying up became much harder. It wasn’t like I could “catch up” on my missing sleep with a six-hour afternoon nap like we did during our yeshivah years. But once you’re married, you begin to realize what it means to do something beyond reason for someone else. Staying up all night has only gotten crazier. And some years I don’t make it all the way through the night. But each year I try, and that’s crazy enough.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Issue 763)
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