Tikkun Leil Shavuot or a happy home? - Matan - The Sadie Rennert

Tikkun Leil Shavuot or a happy home? Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman

Sivan 5784 | June 2024

Topic : Pesach , Shayla ,


Usually I learn all night on Shavuot. My wife is scared to be home alone all night, and if I learn at home she will also have trouble sleeping. Does she have an obligation to stay up all night? And if not, is my mitzvah for Tikkun Leil Shavuot important enough to impinge on her sleep?


This reminds me of a similar question you asked about drinking on Purim. It seems that in this case as well there’s tension between your minhag and the enjoyment of your wife and family. Here too, we must first discuss the source of the tradition of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, staying up all night and learning until morning prayers at dawn, and weigh it against any mitzvah observance it impacts. In this case, in addition to the issue of simchat yom tov, rejoicing on the festival, halakhic authorities also mention possible negative effects staying up all night may have on morning prayers and on Torah study.

Is there an obligation to learn all night on Shavuot?

Tikkun Leil Shavuot is not mentioned in the gemara or by Rambam, Shulkhan Arukh, or Rema. The Zohar relates that it began with a minhag chassidim, a custom of the pious.[1] It seems this minhag became popular among early kabbalists in Tzefat, and gradually spread throughout the Jewish people, as Magen Avraham described:

“In the Zohar [it says] that early chassidim would stay up all night and occupy themselves with Torah, and now this custom is observed by most people who study [Torah]. And it’s possible the plain reason is that Israel slept the whole night [before the Torah was given] and the Holy One, Blessed be He, had to wake them, as it says in the midrash, and so we need this tikkun (repair).”[2]

As Magen Avraham states, “most people who learn Torah” observe this custom, but not everyone. Staying up all night is not for everyone, and this seems to be obvious in the sources that discuss this custom.

Women and Tikkun Leil Shavuot

Halakhic authorities debate whether it’s appropriate for women to take part in this custom. On one hand, women are exempt from the formal mitzvah of Torah study. Even though women are required to learn the Torah they need to know to fulfill mitzvot, they are not obligated to set aside time to study Torah every day. On the other hand, God gave the Torah to all of Israel on Shavuot – women and men – so perhaps women should also take part in honoring the Torah and learning in preparation?

In his Responsa, Rav Pa’alim, Ben Ish Chai writes that there’s no reason for women to take part in Tikkun Leil Shavuot.[3] He explains that the Tikkun on Shavuot is the continuation of a “Tikkun” that begins with the counting of the Omer, which women do not usually observe. Additionally, those who observe the Tikkun are called “shushvinin d’matronita” (lit. the groomsmen of the matron), they adorn the Torah on Shavuot, when it is compared to a bride. He states that it is inappropriate for women to fulfill this role, as men should pursue women, and not vice versa.

Ben Ish Chai connects Tikkun Leil Shavuot to counting the Omer, and therefore excludes women.[4] Conversely, Kaf HaChaim, also from Baghdad, says that since women do count Omer it’s appropriate for them to complete the “tikkun” by learning Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) on the night of Shavuot. He adds that while the benefit of learning Tanakh to complete the “tikkun” does not apply to women who didn’t count Omer, there is still good reason for her to stay awake and learn whatever Torah she desires on Shavuot night.[5] Rav Mordechai Eliyahu also wrote that even though women are not obligated in Tikkun Leil Shavuot, those who observe it will be blessed.[6]

The custom for women to learn Torah all night is not as widespread or established as that of men. Yet there is good reason for them to participate in their own Tikkun.

The “price” of Tikkun Leil Shavuot

Recently, a number of Torah scholars have noted what seems to have gone unsaid in earlier generations, seemingly because Tikkun Leil Shavuot was only observed by the most pious individuals: before one takes on a minhag chassidim, they must ensure they have fulfilled all obligatory mitzvot.

Levush and Magen Avraham bring a similar idea concerning people with the custom to stay awake in the Synagogue all Yom Kippur night: “It’s preferable to go to sleep in one’s home, since someone who is awake at night is sleepy during the day and can’t concentrate on what they say (i.e. their prayers).”[7]

Before a person stays awake all night on Shavuot, they must ensure that this custom does not interfere with mitzvah obligations such as praying with intention and rejoicing in the festival. Before we turn our attention to the mitzvah of rejoicing on the festival, we must note another mitzvah that may be negatively impacted by the Tikkun – the mitzvah of Torah study.

Several rabbinic authorities note that to properly observe the Tikkun one must learn throughout the night, without breaks for idle chit chat. One’s study should be filled with joy and excitement.[8] So if one is unable to learn with excitement and joy, isn’t it preferable they sleep and learn the next day?

In Peninei Halakha, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed rules that if one has trouble studying all night or staying up all night will detract from their overall Torah study or their ability to rejoice in the festival, it’s preferable to sleep.[9] There are accounts that Rabbi Elyashiv didn’t stay up all night learning because he calculated that it would cost him fifteen minutes of learning overall, and so it was preferable to continue his regular study schedule.

We are blessed to live in a time when Torah study is widely accessible and a custom that began with a select few of the most pious individuals is now observed by the masses. Yet we must remember that we are human, and therefore limited. Chazal teach us: “tafasta meruba, lo tafasta” – if you try to grasp too much, you end up with nothing. We must recognize our limits and be humble enough to admit when our reach exceeds our grasp in order to ensure that any added customs or stringencies we take on do not interfere with the fulfillment of our basic obligations.

Inevitably, at times we must choose between two mitzvot. As the Yiddish saying goes, “You can’t dance at two weddings with one behind.” The main goal of Tikkun Leil Shavuot is to honor and adorn the Torah God gave us. If the loss of sleep involved in learning all night diminishes our ability to concentrate on Torah obligations, then we end up achieving the opposite. In such a case it is better to accept that, at least this year, we are unable to participate in this custom.

Some halakhic authorities teach that the spiritual benefits of learning throughout the night more than make up for any deficiencies in the quality of the Torah study. This may be the case. But I have yet to come across a halakhic authority that permits staying up all night at the cost of praying with intention or  fulfilling the mitzvah of rejoicing in the festival. Similarly, I personally find it particularly distressing to see people falling asleep during Torah reading after they have learned all night “to honor the Torah.”

Interim conclusions

Taking all this into consideration, if you are generally unable to concentrate on your Torah study Shavuot night, or if your tefilla at dawn lacks kavana (intention), I would advise that you sleep Shavuot night. The impact on your wife is important, but if staying up all night interferes with your personal Torah obligations you already have a clear priority.

If this is the case, but you also find it difficult to give up learning that night, or if it’s important to you to study the actual “Tikkun” text, you can stay up a bit later than usual to study and then go to sleep. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu recommends: “Someone who can’t stay awake all night should study a minimum of the Tanakh as it is arranged in the Tikkun, and a paragraph of midrash and a paragraph of Zohar. And a bit of the 613 mitzvot.”[10]

The mitzvah to rejoice on the festival

Even one who is able to study and pray meaningfully when they stay up all night should take into account the effect this has on simchat yom tov, the mitzvah to rejoice on the festival. Both his simcha and that of his household. A single man studying in yeshiva may be able to stay awake all night without diminishing the simcha of others, and can decide whether to do so based solely on their own mitzvah observance. The same can’t be said of anyone – woman or man- whose sleepless night affects others in their household. Anyone who is responsible for the needs of others must make their decision based on a bigger picture.

You mention that your wife can’t sleep if you learn Tikkun. There may be further issues. Loss of sleep can affect both erev chag and chag itself, increasing the burden on others to cook, clean, care for children, and ensure a proper festive atmosphere in the house. All this affects our mood, we may become tired and lose patience, or overall have less energy to invest in others. Clearly, we must take these effects into account.

The Torah values of mutual responsibility for one another and shalom bayit (maintaining the peace in the household/marriage) mean it is imperative we consider how our choice to observe this custom affects the other members of our household. But even if one were to decide that the benefit of Tikkun Leil Shavuot overrides these issues, they must still account for the effect it has on the mitzvah of simchat yom tov.

The Torah seems to direct the mitzvah to rejoice in the festival to the (male?) head of the household: “You shall rejoice before the Eternal, your God, you and your sons and your daughters, and your manservants, and your maidservants, and the Levite in your gates, and the foreigner, and the orphan, and the widow in your midst…”[11]

Ensuring the simcha of others

Some halakhic authorities explain that the essence of this mitzvah is to rejoice before God, with the meat from the shelamim Temple offerings. But, as Chazal explain, even without this aspect there is still a mitzvah to rejoice in the festival:

“The rabbis taught in a beraita: A man is obligated to make his children and the members of his household happy on the festival… with what? Wine. Rabbi Yehuda said: Men with what is befitting for them and women with what is befitting for them. Wine is befitting for men. And for women? Rav Yosef said: In Babylon – colorful clothes, and in the Land of Israel – pressed white linen clothes.”[12]

A minority opinion explains that this is a rabbinic mitzvah, but Rambam teaches that one aspect of the Torah mitzvah of v’samachta b’chagecha is to enjoy the festival with any number of things that bring one joy.[13]

It seems from here that fathers and husbands are responsible for their household member’s fulfillment of the mitzvah of simcha. The Talmudic sage Abbaye goes even further, and indicates that women do not have an independent mitzvah to rejoice on the festival, rather men are required to bring joy to the women in their lives.[14]

Consequently, such a man may not claim that he must prioritize his own joy on the festival, or claim that the disruption to his household shouldn’t be a factor. Quite the opposite, it seems this obligation is meant to ensure men prioritize their household’s simcha.

One could claim that these sources all involve simcha that is related to material objects, and that a man’s obligation is limited to his financial expenditures (since women and children at that time did not usually have their own money). Yet this would be disingenuous, as it seems that there is a more essential lesson here.

It’s likely the sages were concerned that a man would be so preoccupied in his own spiritual pursuits that he would neglect the social and material aspects of the festival. Indeed, the gemara discusses how to balance between the two and brings a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer, who says that one must choose between dedicating the entire day to God or to themselves, and Rabbi Yehoshua who says one should split the day – part for God and part for oneself.[15]

As a rule, in a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua, we rule like Rabbi Yehoshua. Indeed, Rambam rules that one is also obligated to eat and drink on the festival, but should not spend all day doing so. In the morning they go to pray and read from the Torah, then they return home to eat, and split the rest of the day between prayer and learning with the community and enjoying food and drink at home.[16]

It’s possible that a man who chooses Tikkun Leil Shavuot when it prevents him from properly rejoicing with their household does not fulfill their obligation of “v’samachta b’chagecha.” Rav Soloveitchik explains that the mitzvah of simcha is, at its core, emotional. The external things we do are expressions of our joy.[17] It’s difficult to be b’simcha when one is exhausted and devoid of energy, or when tension and resentment permeate the home.

If staying awake will diminish your personal ability to learn, pray, or rejoice, then it seems clear that it is not appropriate this year, and you can reassess in the future. If not, it’s my humble recommendation that after careful assessment of your options you discuss these issues with your wife.

If learning all night and praying at dawn don’t have any ill-effects, and especially if it’s essential to your own simchat yom tov, perhaps you and your wife can find a balance. Each of you should be focused on what would bring the other joy while maintaining what is essential to your own simcha.

Perhaps your wife can find a family member or friend to stay over so she can sleep? Or maybe there’s somewhere you can learn in the area that’s far enough that your learning doesn’t disturb her but close enough for her to sleep? Maybe there’s a way to split the night? Or for you to do more around the house before and on Shavuot so she can make up for the lost sleep?


Bottom line

First and foremost, prioritize obligatory mitzvot: prayer with intent, Torah study, and rejoicing in the festival with your family members. Exhaustion makes true simcha nearly impossible. The bedrock of the marriage covenant is your shared responsibility for one another, generally in life and specifically in mitzvah observance.

A husband and wife are one unit. The Torah describes a married couple as “one flesh.” Chazal tell us “ishto k’gufo,” “his wife is like himself.” What is important to your wife should be important to you, and what is important to you should be important to your wife. Accounting for your family’s needs and making their mitzvah observance a priority is an essential part of your own avodat Hashem and a beautiful way to honor the Torah.


[1] Zohar III 98:1

[2] Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim) 494

[3] Responsa Rav Pa’alim 1 Sod Yesharim 9

[4] Kabbalists understand that the night of Shavuot presents a segulah, a unique opportunity, for an actual “tikkun” – literally repair or establish – for a specific sin of previous generations, or oneself, or higher realms of existence.

[5] Kaf HaChaim 494:8

[6] Leil Chag HaShavuot 11

[7] Orach Chaim 619:11

[8] Hilkhot Shana I Bamidbar 3

[9] Peninei Halakha Moadim, Shavuot, Limud Leil Shavuot

[10] Tikkun Leil Shavuot 11

[11] Devarim 16:11

[12] TB Pesachim 109a

[13] Hilkhot Shvitat Yom Tov 6:17

[14] TB Kiddushin 34a; Tosefta Pesachim 10:3: “It’s a mitzvah for a person to bring joy to their children and household members on the festival. How do they make them happy?  With wine. Rabbi Yehuda said: Women – what is befitting to them, children – what is befitting for them.”

Tosafot on Rosh HaShana 6b teach: “A husband makes his wife happy: Rabbeinu Tam explains that the wife is not obligated, the husband is the one who is obligated to make his wife happy…”

[15] TB Pesachim 68b; Beitza 15b.

[16] Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Shvitat Yom Tov 6:19, Maggid Mishna ad loc.

[17] Shiurim l’Zekher Abba Mori pd. 188

Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman Debbie Zimmerman graduated from the first cohort of Hilkhata – Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute and is a Halakhic Responder. She is a multi-disciplinary Jewish educator, with over a decade of experience in adolescent and adult education. After completing a BA in Social Work, Debbie studied Tanakh in the Master’s Program for Bible in Matan and Talmud in Beit Morasha.

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