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Written by Tzvi Fishman   
Monday, 16 December 2013

Here Comes “Shovavim”

“Shovavim” refers to the six-week period which begins when the Torah portion of Shemot is read. The term “Shovavim” is an acronym of the six consecutive Torah portions beginning with Shemot. According to Kabbalah, this period is especially conducive to rectifying sexual transgressions (Arizal, Shaar HaYichudim, 4:3). Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook writes of a future time when the world will admire Israel's quest for sexual purity as highlighted by the special fasts and prayers of Shovavim (Orot HaKodesh, part 3, pg. 296).

During Shovavim, Jews gather on Thursdays in synagogues throughout Israel to recite special prayers, called “Tikun Yesod”, to cleanse the deep blemishes of sexual transgression. “Tikun HaYesod” means rectifying the spiritual channel, called “Yesod,” which brings Divine blessings to the individual and nation. The foremost Kabbalists emphasize the great tribulations and sufferings caused by transgressions like masturbation, sex out of wedlock, sex with non-Jews, violations of Niddah, and homosexuality. Joining the list today is watching pornography on the Internet, which causes great damage to the Jewish soul, and brings terrible sufferings on the person and his loved ones through the harmful spiritual forces that a person creates and unleashes into his home through his transgression.

At risk of oversimplification of esoteric ideas, one who bears the stains of sexual misconduct is like one who is constantly accompanied by a invisible cloud of spiritual pollution, which interferes with all aspects of life. Kabbalists emphasize that usual modes of repentance do not suffice; they can only be rectified by a "great and constant penitence" (Zohar on Shemot, 3b). Thus, Kabbalists formulated special prayers and rectifications (tikunim) for Shovavim.

The Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe stressed that even married men and Torah scholars must make a concerted effort to repent during Shovavim (Halichot Chaim "Holidays and Seasons," Shovavim). He gave passionate sermons as Shovavim approached, claiming that wholehearted repentance is more important during Shovavim than during the High Holidays. He exhorted followers to let their broken hearts give way to the joy of deliverance. Only if he sensed that he had succeeded in inspiring a true fear of sin in his congregation would proceed with the Shovavim prayers.

He taught that the greatest weapon against the evil inclination was Torah study day and night. Additionally, he prescribed ‘fasting from speech’ (taanit dibur), asserting, based on esoteric works (Chid”a, Ahavat HaKodesh, Tzipora Shamir, 7:101), that anyone who committed transgressions through speech was certain to commit sexual transgressions as well.

The Tikun HaYesod prayers and accompanying fasts are in lieu of the 84 fasts that the Arizal prescribes for each sexual transgression (Tanya, Igeret HaT'shuvah, ch. 3; Mishnat Chassidim, Tractate T'shuvah). Rabbi Yaakov Emden discusses different types of fasts in his scholarly prayer book, “Beit Yaakov” (pp. 370-1). Since fasting impedes the body’s production of blood, it is like a sin-offering. Those unable to fast, either because of health or because it impedes Torah study, should give charity instead, along with heartfelt repentance and confession (R’ Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Igeret HaKodesh 3).

During this period one should avoid anger and criticism, even on behalf of the Torah. He should shun cynicism, frivolity and arrogance, and be very humble. Another recommended practice is one should learn every day duriing the period at least one complete chapter of Psalms and study chapters of the Mishnaic tractate Taharot.

There are different variations of the Shovavim gatherings, depending on the tradition. For example, the elder Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi of B'nei Brak, does not prescribe fasting. Rather, he recommends daily penitential prayers, like his own “Tikun HaYesod Yeshuat Eliahu,” and adding a greater fear of Heaven to one's service of G-d by, for instance, saying blessings over food with extra concentration, and extra modesty in marital relations.

While most Shovavim ceremonies are conducted on Thursday afternoon, Rabbi Levi holds nightlong sessions in different cities around the country, climaxing at the Kotel). The gatherings begin with “Tikun Hatzot” (Midnight Lament), mourning the destruction of the Temple and subsequent exile. Throughout the night, Torah is studied while food is passed around to provide stamina for the all-night vigil. While the women recite a special women's tikun composed by Rabbi Levi, the men rush to the nearest mikvah to immerse before the pre-dawn finale. The spiritual roller coaster ends when the ark is opened for the trumpeting of shofars and a joyous recital of the revered Ben Ish Chai’s “Tikun HaYesod.”

If you can’t get to the tikunim gatherings, studying the essays posted on this site is the next best thing to being there.


Last Updated ( Monday, 16 December 2013 )
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