July 19, 2024
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Shavuot and the Embracing of the Dark

My favorite ride every year takes place in the dark.

Usually on a fall Sunday following the chagim, my bike-riding buddies and I (known as the Papa Wheelies) head down to the city, way before the sun rises, to participate in the ride for MS research. And as we exit Grand Central Station and make our way to the pier, we have the whole city to ourselves. Streets that later will be gridlocked are barren and quiet reigns in the usually hectic, noisy Big Apple.

As a morning person, I can identify with the famous song from Guys and Dolls which says, “My time of day is the dark time.” Because it’s not only on that riding day where I like the dark time, it’s any day that I can take time in the dark before dawn to have a moment to ground myself before the world comes to life, that I cherish.

One of the beauties of the Tikkun Leil Shavuot, in which thousands of Jews this week will participate, is the embracing of learning Torah during the holiness of the dark time.

Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter in his Doresh David tells us that while learning Torah any time is a mitzvah, it is in those dark hours, at night before dawn, where we learn the most wisdom. He quotes Rav Yonah in Avot who says that those times of darkness are ripe for reflecting on Torah because we have no work responsibility and we do not have to be distracted by the voices from the outside. The dark time puts the world aside and allows us to focus.

David Whyte, poet and philosopher writes in his book “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship,” about the commitments to work and to others, and also the commitment to self. He tells us that our inner self, the one that we can actually hear in the dark and in times of cessation, “moves and changes and surprises us.” Through our work, through our relationships and through our religious life, our self transforms and it is only in moments of quiet and darkness where we can connect to our ever-changing selves.

It is no surprise that Shavuot’s all night learning is called the tikkun, the improvement and that the holiday where the tikkun takes place is also known as Atzeret, cessation. Shavuot is a holiday where we are to cease from distraction and focus on the main task of stepping back and truly engaging with Torah and our religious selves in order to grow and improve.

In our world and in our Jewish lens, we talk so much about embracing and blessing light. Yes, it is light that shines and gives us strength, but sometimes we forget that every morning we also bless God for being בוֹרֵא חֽשֶׁךְ, creating darkness. Darkness is just as much an ingredient to a life lived well.

This Shavuot, let’s embrace the dark—the place where we can truly listen and prepare our selves and our souls to reach their greatest heights.


Aaron Frank is head of school at Kinneret Day School.

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