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Pull an All-Nighter

by Tim O'Hearn

College students are quite familiar with pulling an all-nighter. It is finals week, and you havenít really studied up until now. You have three important finals in one day tomorrow. What do you do? You stay up all night cramming for those finals, knowing you will have to do the same tomorrow. The next day you get through your first and second finals, but fall asleep in the middle of the third. That is why college students have 30-cup coffee pots in their rooms. Well, it isnít just college students that end up studying all night. Many Jews do it, too.

The holiday of Shavuos (aka Pentecost, which starts the evening of May 30 in 2017) is unusual in several ways. First, it is the only one of the major festivals that does not fall on the full moon. In fact, if you follow the view of the Sadducees, it doesnít even fall on the same date every year. The Sadducees held that the start of the counting of fifty days began on the day after the first Sabbath after Passover. Thus the holiday would always fall on a Sunday, but since Passover might come on a Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Sabbath, the actual date would vary. The Pharisees (and modern Jews) held that the fifty day count always ends on Sivan 7, fifty days after Passover itself, which may be the evening of a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday.

Another way that Shavuos is different is that it has no mandated way of celebrating the holiday. Pesach is celebrated by removing all leaven. Sukkos (the Feast of Booths) is celebrated by building temporary shelters and living in them, as well as by waving certain branches. On Yom Kippur, fasting is the order of the day. But the requirement for Shavuos, other than the animal sacrifice, isónothing. No feasting, no fasting, no special observance.

That doesnít mean that the Jewish people donít do anything to celebrate the holiday. It just means that any such celebration is rabbinic rather than mandated by the law itself.

The holiday is presumed to fall on the anniversary of the giving of the Law on Sinai. Scripture says they arrived at Sinai in ďthe third monthĒ after leaving Egypt. (Ex 19:1) Since they left on the fifteenth day of one month, they might have come to Sinai anywhere from 46 to 75 days later. The law was given three days after they arrived at the mountain. The minimum time elapsed, then, would be 49 or 50 days. (Using the Sadducees calculation, Shavuos could have been as many as 57 days after Passover.)

Since the holiday is most closely associated with the giving of the Law, it only makes sense to celebrate the Law in some way on Shavuos. And that is where the all-nighter comes in. The traditional way to celebrate the holiday is to stay up all night, studying. The rabbis say this is putting oneself in the place of the original group of Israelites, and accepting the Law as they did.

This is not a bad idea, be ye Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or any other group that holds their scriptures to be divinely inspired. If the scriptures are indeed the word of God, should they not be read and studied regularly? Daily? Weekly? Annually? It is generally not considered a burden to fast one day a year (or daily for a month for Muslims). If it is possible to spend a day without feeding the body, how much easier should it be to spend a night feeding the soul?