Sleep. We all need an ample amount of sleep to function the next day. It’s meant to recharge and rejuvenate us. I, for one, adore my sleep. I wish I had more of it. If only I didn’t go to sleep so late every night, only to need to be up at the crack of dawn the next morning.
But there is one night that we are meant to stay awake until the morning- on Shavuot (Pentecost) night. The day the Jewish nation received and accepted the Torah, the Bible, from God.
It was during the time of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, that the Jewish nation would make 3 pilgrimages (Feast of the Tabernacles, Passover, and Feast of the Pentecost) to the Temple to bring the first fruits of the new harvest.
Nowadays, there is no Temple, as it was destroyed. Therefore, we are meant to stay awake all night learning and reviewing anything related to the Bible. I cannot say that I have stayed up all night in many years, as my children demand my attention the next morning no matter how I spent the night before.
This was our first Shavuot in Israel as a family. Yes, it’s another first. And therefore, before night fell, a deep conversation ensued. But first, some background. There is a practice that after staying up all night, thousands of people ascend to the Kotel- the Western Wall, to pray the morning Holiday prayers. This practice has been happening for thousands of years since before the destruction of the Temple. What a privilege to live in Jerusalem, the scene of where the Temple stood, and have the opportunity to live in walking distance (an hour and 15 minutes) from the Old City Walls.
My husband would have loved to walk to the Kotel, but he saw something in my eyes. One of us would have to stay back as one of the kids wasn’t feeling so well. I was willing to stay back as much as I wanted to go. But our oldest daughter showed a desire to make the long trek. A walk that wasn’t only long, but one that required you to wake up at 3:30am, in the middle of the night, and walk with exhaustion still upon your heavy eyelids. We decided that for this year, we’d have it be a Mother/Daughter experience.
How fortunate was I to not only have this incredible uplifting experience, but to have it with my daughter. She said, “Mommy, I’m so lucky to live in Yerushalayim. Even though it’s a long walk, we’re able to walk it.” After leaving our apartment at 4am, we arrived at the Kotel at 5:15am just as the sun was starting to brighten the sky, announcing the beginning of a new day. And then we witnessed the sight- thousands of Jews, from every walk of life, from every background, also gathered there to pray together. As we stood there watching the sun rise, we saw the birds offer their morning songs. They flew fluidly, synchronized, and majestically. What an absolutely glorious scene to observe. My daughter and I looked at the birds, and then at each other and silently spoke to one another. I saw happiness in her eyes. She was so proud of herself for making the walk.
Even more so, the experience was so sincere. There were no cameras, no phones. It was a Holiday. People didn’t gather there to capture a picture- they gathered there to capture the moment. The “in-the-moment.” To connect with God. To thank Him. To bless him.
On Shavuot, we read from Megillat Ruth. She left her home- everything she was comfortable with to move to Israel. To a land unknown to her. It isn’t difficult to see the comparison of families from all over the world, leaving their comfort, to move to Israel on that surface level. May we all merit to see Ruth’s descendent, Mashiach ben Dovid, come speedily in our days.
So I may have missed out on a night’s worth of sleep, but I gained so much more. How lucky I really am.