The Story of the First Tikkun Layl Shavuot

There is only one medieval text that mentions a tikkun leyl Shavuot
Zohar – book of Illumation — classic text of Jewish mysticism
Though it could be inferred from the yearning of the Shekhinah
For Tiferet for Hakadosh Barukh Hu
For Kenesset Yisrael, the people of Israel
The anticipated meeting
The longed-for betrothal of God and Israel
The integrating notion the marriage of Israel and God on Shavuot
The cosmic coupling of Shekhinah and her love
Tiferet and Malkhut
Shekhinah and HaKadosh Barukh Hu
Amen v’amen.

The first certain tikkun
the first all night session of study in honor of the holy integration
Has been preserved in a secret letter
Iggeret Alkabetz
The letter of Shlomo haLevi Alkabetz
Word merchant of Lekha Dodi
The wedding song welcoming Shekhinah
By the people of Israel
On the occasions when we allow ourselves to be
Found.

In the secret letter
Mid sixteenth century
Circulated around Europe
Written by Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz
Recalling a Shavuot night in 1533
Salonica [now called Thessaloniki]
In the polyglot Ottomon world
Conquered by the Sultan Murad II a century earlier [1430]
It would remain Muslim until 1912
And a good 1/5th Jewish until 1943
When its entire Jewish population was carried off to Auschwitz.

Between the World Wars
Salonica was the only port on the Mediterranean
Closed on Shabbat.
Living in Salonica in 1533 were Alkabetz
And his teacher Rabbi Yosef Caro
Who Alkabetz refers to as He-Chasid
The Pious one
Caro Spanish for dear the dear pious one
He was already known for his first halakhic work Beit Yosef
He came to Salonica in 1530 and indulged his fascination with Chen
Chokhmah nisteret, the hidden wisdom
Kabbalah.

Caro would be visited for over fifty years
By a maggid
A spirit a voice that spoke through him
He read Mishnahs
Mishnah an anagram for neshamah
And through his being spoke his maggid
It was an angel that spoke through him
Sometimes masculine
Sometimes feminine
Sometimes masculine and feminine.

The darshan the kol the dibbur
The mishnah the Ima the Shekhinah
He/she was called all these names
This from the compiler of the central text of organizational halakhah
Masculine halakhist
Feminine kabbalist
Yosef Caro.

When Yosef Caro spoke
The angels appeared in an invisible ring of fire around him.
Amen.

Yosef Caro imagined himself as Moshe Rabbeinu
Alkabetz his Aharon.

This is Alkabetz speaking through me
Describing preparation for the first Tikkun Leil Shavuot:

We agreed the Hasid and I to stay awake
Three days before the holiday
We immersed in the mikveh
We purified ourselves properly to accompany the bride.

We agreed not to stop learning for even one second
Thank God we were successful.

I prepared verses from the Torah
We chanted aloud in a spirit of great awe
With melody and verve
What happened next will not be believed.

After all the verses
We recited out loud all the Mishnahs of Zeraim
The first of the Six Orders
And then we started again
Learning it in the way of true learning
We completed two tractates.
At midnight
The Creator graced us and we heard a voice coming from Rabbi Caro
Listen my beloved those who most glorify the Creator
My loved ones shalom aleikhem
Happy are you and happy those that bore you
Happy are you in this world
And happy you will be in the world to come
Because you took upon yourselves to crown Me on this night.
It has been many years since My crown has fallen
There has been no one to comfort Me
I have been cast to the dust embracing filth
But now
You have restored the crown.

Strengthen yourselves my dear ones
Forge ahead my beloved
Be joyous
Know that you are among the exalted
You approach the King’s palace
The voice of your Torah and breath of your mouths
Arose before God and pierced through the many firmaments
Until the messenger angels were quieted
And the fire angels hushed
And all God’s lofty retinue listened to your voices.


I am the Mishnah that advised humankind.
I have come to speak with you.
If only there were ten of you
You would have ascended even higher
Still you have elevated yourselves and those who bore you
I have been summoned this night through those gathered in this great city
You are not like those sleeping
You cleaved to the One and have pleased God
My children, strengthen yourselves and push forth in my love
My Torah
My awe.

With a loud voice as on Yom Kippur
Say with me
Barukh Shem Kevod Malchuto L’Olam Va’ed.
Sing it again in the melody of our Salonica
Sing it slowly
Close your eyes and sing it in a melody rescued from Our Salonica
Where I sit in 1533 with seven
Seven of the dear ones
Who sat and began the tikkun on this night 2,845 years since Sinai
The repair of our past
Take a deep breath and sing with me now
Barukh Shem Kevod Malchuto L’Olam Va’ed.

We recited verses until daybreak
In the morning we went to immerse ourselves
As we had on the two previous days
And at the mikveh we met the three others
Who we had been waiting for
We made the minyan
They promised to join us on the second night of the chag.

On night two we did the same as the night before
Except this time we were ten
And the voice did not wait to begin at midnight
As it had the night before
But it made itself heard immediately
And it began to teach:
Listen my dear ones, those most glorifying God, arise and raise those who are
lying in dust, through the mystical secret of the dust from Above.


Many matters of wisdom were taught
And afterwards the Voice said
Happy are you my dear ones that raise me
How high you have been elevated now that you are ten
As is proper in all matters of holiness.
If permission were granted, your eyes would behold the fire
Surrounding this house.
Strengthen yourselves and do not break the bond with Above
Say aloud with me
Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.
Barukh Shem Kevod Malchuto L’olam Va-ed.


After another half an hour, we returned to studying the secrets of Torah
Exactly at midnight the Voice returned a second time
Teaching for over an hour and a half
It praised the learning and said
See and hear this voice speaking?
Ask your elders and know that for hundreds of years
You are the only ones to merit such an experience
Be alert to help each other and to strengthen the weak
Hold yourselves as leaders
For you are the princes of the King’s palace
And you have merited to enter the hallway
Now come into the inner chamber
But do not forsake the entry
For one who leaves the gate
His blood is on his head.

Behold the day is coming when men and women will abandon the Exile
And their silver and worldly pleasures their gods of gold and desires of wealth
And they will travel to the Holy Land
It is possible
You have merited what others
For many generations
Have not.

Alkabetz wrote that the following Shabbat
The Voice again came to Rabbi Caro
He again gathered the ten together
Urging them to enter the inner place
They agreed to set aside every desire
To refrain from meat and wine
And mourn the Exile of the Shekhinah.

They held the tikkun leyl Shavuot the next year — 1534
A few months later plague broke out
Yosef Caro lost his wife, two sons, and a daughter
The angel stopped speaking from his mouth
At the end of the year of mourning
He remarried and moved to Nikopol
On the banks of the Danube in Bulgaria.

Caro became ill
By 1536 he had declined so that Alkabetz came from Salonica
To say goodbye.

When he arrived, Rabbi Yosef Caro revived.
The voice from heaven returned
On a Sabbath in February, 1536
The angel appeared in Alkabetz’s presence
And asked that the two keep their oath.
Alkabetz then wrote his famous letter
Recording the events of the Tikkun Leyl Shavuot in Salonica
That had taken place almost three years earlier.

In 1536, during the Hebrew month Elul,
They sailed from the port of Constantinople
Ten days later they landed in Eretz Yisrael.
They set up residence in Safed
Rabbi Caro became the chief rabbi of Safed from 1546
To his death in 1575
Safed — In the north
The holy city on the hill
So began the golden age of Kabbalah in Safed
The ascendance of the imaginative circle
Who gathered around the holy Ari
Alkabetz would create Lecha Dodi
Become a teacher to his brother-in-law Cordovero.

Rabbi Yosef Caro and those in his circle
Honored the Voice of his maggid the rest of his years
His spirit would move through his ancestors
The Ari speaking through Mrs. K
You have the holy Ari within you, I said to her,

I feel the poets of the Diaspora speaking through me now
The halakhists and the kabbalists
The Caros and the Alkabetzes
All the dear pious ones –

Who is it speaking through you
Whose voice do you hear
When you open your mouth
And you speak a ribbon
of fire.

Amen.