The Source for the Order of the Night of Shavuot
The widespread custom among the entire Jewish nation is to stay awake the entire night of Shavuot and immerse one’s self in Torah study until dawn. Indeed, the holy Zohar states: “The earlier righteous individuals would not sleep on this night and would toil in Torah and say, ‘Let us inherit a holy legacy for ourselves and for our children in both worlds.’” Similarly, the holy Zohar states: “All those who perform the order of rectification on this night and are glad about it shall be inscribed in the Book of Remembrance and Hashem shall bless them with seventy blessings and crowns from the upper realms.”
The Reason why we Customarily Stay Awake All Night
The Pirkei De’Rabbi Eliezer states: “Rabbi Pinchas says: The Jewish nation stood at Mount Sinai on Erev Shabbat with the men being prepared alone and the women being prepared alone. Hashem told Moshe, ‘Go ask the women of Israel if they are willing to accept the Torah, for men usually follow the decision of women,’ as the verse states, ‘So shall you say to the house of Yaakov,’ which refers to the women, ‘And speak to the house of Israel,’ which refers to the men. All answered as one, ‘Whatever Hashem has spoken, we shall perform and heed.’ That day the Jewish nation slept until the second hour of the day (approximately 7:00 am) at which point Moshe went around the camp of Israel awakening them from their sleep. He told them, “Awaken from your slumber! The groom has already arrived and is expecting his bride and is waiting for her in order to give them the Torah!”
Since at the time of the acceptance of the Torah the Jewish nation slumbered all night and Hashem needed to awaken them, we must therefore rectify this matter by staying awake all night long and immerse ourselves in Torah.
Women and the Order of the Night of Shavuot
Rabbeinu Yosef Haim of Baghdad writes in his book based on the Kabbalah that he was asked if it is proper for women to participate in the order of learning on the nights of Shavuot and Hosha’ana Rabba or not. He answers that the custom in his household is that the women do not recite the order of learning on the night of Shavuot and instead, they go to sleep. Although they are wise and righteous women who recite Tehillim and hold other learning sessions daily, nevertheless, according to Kabbalah it is not a good thing for women to stay awake on the night of Shavuot at all. He proceeds to support this from the words of the holy Zohar. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules likewise. However, this does not apply to Hosha’ana Rabba; on the contrary, it is actually a good practice for women to stay awake all night long on the night of Hosha’ana Rabba like men.
One Should be very careful not to fall asleep during Shacharit or Mussaf prayers of Shavuot morning. The Shacharit Amida prayer should not be recited before sunset (in order to let the congregation out earlier since people are tired); rather, the congregation should wait for sunrise.
In the next Halacha we shall, G-d-willing, explain that one should recite the customary texts of this order.