Sunday, June 08, 2008

Does Learning All Shavuos Night Prevent One From Dying That Year?

A Simple Jew asks the following good question:
Shaar HaKavanos contains the Arizal's assurance that if a person occupies himself with learning Torah on the night of Shavuos and does not sleep at all he will certainly not die that year and absolutely no harm will come to him. Can we understand this assurance from the Arizal literally? How do you account for the people who died in the same year that they stayed up all night learning or saying Tikun Leil Shavuos?
I would answer:
  1. Yes, we can understand this assurance from the Arizal literally.
  2. We can account for the people who died in the same year that they stayed up all night learning or saying Tikun Leil Shavuos by explaining that although the Arizal thought himself to have ruach hakodesh and thought himself capable of making such a havtacha, in fact he wasn't.
But at any rate, there is an answer given there for those who would not accept my straightforward answer. :) See there. A summary:

1) The Arizal says to be engaged, laasok. Thus, "Toiling means at least working to be connected to Hashem either by doing the kavanos the Arizal prescribes while saying the Tikkun or by at feeling inspired by their loftiness even if one doesn't fully understand them. I don't mean merely thinking about the kavanos either. I mean living them."

2) Did he not waste any time at all the entire night, even when taking a coffee break? Such a person did not learn the entire night, if he wasted a single moment.

3) The davening is included, since it is part of the Tikkun. And the meal is included.

My issue with this is that then it is impossible for the havtacha to apply to anyone except extreme tzaddikim and the malachei haShareis. The Torah was not given to the malachei haShareis, but the promise of the Arizal was.

Can your average Joe really learn every single instant Shavuos night and not be distracted a single moment? When according to midrash, David haMelech tried to do this on the day destined for his death, the Satan managed to distract him for just an instant in order to take his soul. Similarly, if the malach hamaves is supposed to take a person's neshama that year, he can similarly distract him for just a moment. So what good is this segulah, or havtacha?

Putting the definition of "laasok" so high is another way of making the conditions unachievable for your average or even above average Jew.

Not being kabbalistically inclined, I am not sure which part of Shavuos davening is part of the tikkun. If the night davening, OK. But if the day davening, most people are falling asleep on their feet during Shacharis. (Which, BTW, is a very good reason not to stay up all night for learning or saying tikkun leil Shavuos -- there are competing halachic demands which preceded this kabbalistic custom.)

And if a person is capable of staying up and focusing with all the right kavanos through davening, after no night's sleep, and able to stay focused the entire night through, with not a single instant in which his attention wavers -- well, then, he is quite a gibbor, and even without the Arizal's havtacha, I would guess that most people capable of doing this are in very good and strong health, and could be expected to live out the year. (Though of course all is be-yedei Shamayim.)

I see that Reb Akiva from Mystical Paths makes a similar point in the comment section at "A Simple Jew". To cite excerpts:
When a tzaddik gives a segulah, it would seem mighty odd for him to be giving what can only be achieved by tzaddikim. After all, he's giving it to his talmidim or kehilah or chassidim. He can't imagine that they're all tzaddikim and are going to achieve a level of learning / concentration / focus / kavanos / at the highest levels.

...

If having the nerve to walk home from shul and have ones meal (and not be learning every step) cancels the segulah, then you have a segulah that is at odds with normal kosher behavior.

I would think that if a segulah was meant for only those of the highest level, it would say so. We have practices that are marked only for the most righteous (for example the tefillin of the Ravad and Shimush Raba(?)).

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Similarly, if the malach hamaves is supposed to take a person's neshama that year, he can similarly distract him for just a moment."

Who says?

joshwaxman said...

Please choose a pseudonym.

Who says not?? If the malach hamaves *was* able to do this for David haMelech, when he tried to cheat death by constantly learning during that destined, why should the malach hamaves not be able to do the same thing in this case as well?

What, to your mind, would make the two cases different?

Meanwhile, the Arizal never *said* learning with full intensity and proper kavvanos every single instant of the night. This was just a farfetched apologetic answer someone offered. Mine was a question on the farfetched answer, in that it appeared to channel that midrash, in which David haMelech was *unsuccessful.*

joshwaxman said...

Further, even if the malach hamaves would not be able to distract him (why I don't know), that just takes down a single point from a larger argument. Namely, the bar was set so high by this apologetic answer that only the malachei hashareis could accomplish it. Is this really the type of thing the Arizal would give over as an assurance, and segulah?

pseudonym said...

"What, to your mind, would make the two cases different?"

The fact that it is a non-sequitur to say that since the Malach haMaves was effective in one instance that it will always be effective. It's more than a non-sequitur, it would effectively undermine free will.

"Namely, the bar was set so high by this apologetic answer that only the malachei hashareis could accomplish it"

I'm not able to look it up at the moment but as I recall Rabbah was at this level for a considerable period of time.

This "bar" is not any higher than the typical "bar" for being truely called "osek b'Torah" which I am familiar with.

joshwaxman said...

Thanks!
It makes it a lot easier to keep track of conversations, especially on the occasion I get more than one commentator.

"The fact that it is a non-sequitur to say that since the Malach haMaves was effective in one instance that it will always be effective."
I think that was the point of the aggada -- that one cannot cheat death in this way. (Similar to the other aggada about Luz.) But granted. It still is extremely farfetched and a bold claim to make with no evidence. Besides, the fact that he *can* be effective in an instance greatly weakens the "havtacha."


"I'm not able to look it up at the moment but as I recall Rabbah was at this level for a considerable period of time."
ok, so only someone who is on the level of Rabbah is capable of doing this. (I'd still like to see the source, though.) Other Amoraim did doze on occasion (Rabba in Pesachim 120, Abaye in Succah 26b).

"This "bar" is not any higher than the typical "bar" for being truely called "osek b'Torah" which I am familiar with."

Not a fleeting thought for half an instant in a period of several hours? Then no one alive today is osek beTorah, IMHO. My understanding of osek beTorah as typically used is that one commits himself to learning Torah, and engages in it. (One does not necessarily succeed in it, but the purpose is laasok bedivrei Torah, not lilmod Torah.) This entire exercise in redefining what is required is an attempt at apologetics, in my opinion. But you are certainly free to differ. I think that pashut peshat in being "osek" in Torah is exactly what people do when they learn, or go thru tikkun leil Shavuot.

To cite from the blog at greater length:
"First of all, the language of the Zohar/Arizal is "osek" in Torah. Toiling means at least working to be connected to Hashem either by doing the kavanos the Arizal prescribes while saying the Tikkun or by at feeling inspired by their loftiness even if one doesn't fully understand them. I don't mean merely thinking about the kavanos either. I mean living them. At the very least one should learn Torah in a connected way that is the true meaning of receiving the Torah, whether one knows the kavanos or not.

But I am not sure if I see the difficulty with your question even if you don't take into account the above points. Did these people really waste no time the entire night? Even during the meal or on their way to and from shul? Even while taking a coffee break? The Arizal's prescription for the entire night is from beginning to end. Not many people manage this.

Even someone who has really not wasted a single moment the entire night and learned with connection may not merit this as the following story illustrates...

The same is true regarding Shavuos davening. This is especially true here since, kabalistically, part of the tikkun of Shavuos is the davening.

Yet another reason why one may not merit this is because another part of the tikkun is the meal of Shavuos night. It is one of the highest meals of the year and one who is not connected while eating this meal may not merit the "segulah." Let us not forget the mikvah of Shavuos night which is one of the highest of the entire year. The Arizal discusses all of this."

Kol Tuv,
Josh

joshwaxman said...

One separate question I asked on that blog, in slightly different form:

What did the Arizal do wrong the last year of his life? Was he not osek beTorah with the proper kavvanos? What about Rav Chaim Vital? What about the Gra? (What about Amram?)

If they weren't able to reach this level to merit the fulfillment of the havtacha, what chance do I have?

Aside from that, as I hinted earlier, the midrash states that a few people were free of sin but died only because of the punishment in which Adam brought death to the world. Theoretically, how does the Arizal's promise work with this curse in effect? Couldn't some tzaddik live forever by simply having the proper kavvanos every Shavuos night for eternity?

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