There is a widespread custom to stay up the entire night of Shavuot learning Torah. While some spend the night learning whatever Torah topic they fancy, many have the custom of specifically learning a special booklet known as the Tikkun Leil Shavuot (“The Fixing of the Night of Shavuot”).

The Tikkun Leil Shavuot includes the beginning and ending of every section of the Tanach (Torah, Prophets and Scriptures) and Mishnah,1 choice selections of key Kabbalistic texts, and a list of the 613 mitzvahs of the Torah. In addition, sections of Torah, particularly those relating to the Giving of the Torah and the festival of Shavuot, are included.

Why is it that we read the Tikkun rather than delve deeper into Torah study?

Deep Torah Learning vs. Tikkun

Some commentators opine that the most important aspect of the custom is being awake the entire night studying Torah, and those who are capable of it should indeed immerse themselves in deep Torah study. They maintain that the Tikkun was made for the unlearned and the young, who are not capable of studying deeper insights the entire night on their own.2

Most, however, disagree. In fact, not only does the very custom of staying up and learning all night originate from the Kabbalists who compiled the Tikkun Leil Shavuot, throughout the subsequent centuries the foremost Torah scholars had the custom of staying up and specifically reading through the Tikkun on Shavuot night.3

Before we get to the reasons for this, let us first understand the origins of the custom of staying up Shavuot night and learning.

What Are We Fixing?

The Zohar, which is the earliest source for this custom, explains that the Torah is compared to a bride; the Jewish people, the groom; and the Giving of the Torah, the wedding day. The Torah is studied on the night of Shavuot, the night before receiving the Torah anew. This is compared to the adornments that the groom (or mother of the bride) sends to the bride prior to her wedding day.4 In this sense, the Tikkun, which literally means “fixing,” relates to the adornments of the bride, as the Tikkun is meant to “fix” the bride in preparation for the wedding.

The Midrash states that although the Jews had prepared themselves in the days leading up to receiving the Torah, on the morning when they were about to receive the Torah, they overslept and had to be awakened by G‑d.5 To rectify this, we study Torah all night.6

The Whole Torah

We can now turn to why it is preferable to learn the Tikkun Leil Shavuot.

The specific text of the Tikkun Leil Shavuot was chosen and compiled by the Kabbalists due to its spiritual significance, both in terms of a rectification of the past and a preparation for receiving the Torah anew.

Some of the uniqueness of the text can be discerned by simply reading through it.

When one reads the Tikkun, which includes the beginning and ending of each Torah portion, book of Scripture and tractrate of the Mishnah, it is as if, at least on some level, one has learned the entire Torah.7 And learning the “entire” Torah on Shavuot night is a Tikkun—rectification of—Leil Shavuot—the night of Shavuot when we overslept when it came time to receive the Torah.8

Unity to Receive the Torah

The Rebbe9 explains that it is precisely because the Tikkun Leil Shavuot is a simple compilation of verses of the Torah and the Mishnah that we all go through it on Shavuot night as a preparation for receiving the Torah.

At the time of the Giving of the Torah, the Jews experienced an unparalleled level of unity. As the Midrash points out, when we stood at Sinai, we were all “as one person with one heart.”10

Therefore, in order for us to prepare for receiving the Torah anew (and to rectify our ancestors’ inactivity on the night of Shavuot), we spend the night of Shavuot united in Torah study. If we were to immerse in deep Torah scholarship, our level of study would differ. But all Jews can participate equally in the recitation of the simple words of the Torah, arousing true unity within the Jewish nation.

The Crown of Torah

Whether one follows the time-hallowed custom of reading Tikkun or if they choose to study something else, may we all merit to experience that which the second Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber, writes, that “one who is awake the entire night of Shavuot will merit the crown of Torah.”11

See Tikkun Leil Shavuot for the story and history behind the genesis of the custom to learn on Shavuot eve.