Shavuot Night Syndrome

I was learning on Shavuot night with a small group in my house and we discussed Rabbi Yosef Karo’s magid (his angelic or divine visitor)vision in Salonika in 1534. One of the participants who was a former head of psychiatry at a major hospital -think Oliver Sacks type of doctor- said that he has seen this text lead to what he called Shavuot night syndrome. Haredi adolescents who study the “Holy books (seforim hakedoshim)” and expect a revelation or a magid or other angelic visitor for their efforts in piety and ascetic theology. Instead, they get anxiety and breakdown, which requires them to come to him as patients. I said we should apply for an NIH to study Shavuot Night syndrome.

A similar phenomena called Jerusalem Syndrome is found among people who go to Jerusalem and think they are the messiah,a prophet, or a Biblical figure. There are criteria to use to determine real from pathological, but this makes a case worth looking into. Here is a nice article on the topic. Below is the text responsible for the syndrome, it is also the source for the traditional tikkun to be recited on Shavuot night. Many important rabbinic figures during the period 1500- 1830 including the Vilna Gaon had magidim and heavenly voices.

Shavuot Night in Salonika 1534
Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz- author of Lekha Dodi

The pious one [Rabbi Yosef Karo] and I resolved to make a mighty effort to keep sleep from our eyes on Shavuot night, and not to stop learning for even one second. Thank God we were successful. When you hear what transpired, it will enliven your souls.
For the night of Shavuot, this is the order of study I prepared…. [Verses from Scripture *] All this we did in a spirit of great fear and awe, with melody and trepidation. But what will be told next won’t be believed.
After all the verses, we recited aloud all the Mishnah’s of Zera’im (the first of the Six Orders), and then we started again, learning it in the way of true learning, and we completed two tractates. At that moment, the Creator graced us and we heard a great voice coming from Rabbi Karo, the words unintelligible. The people nearby heard but could not understand. The voice was very pleasing but at the same time was growing continually stronger, and we fell on our faces from the great awe. No one dared to lift his eyes and face to see.

The voice spoke:

Fortunate are you…because you took it upon yourselves to crown Me… “Listen my beloved, those who most glorify the Creator, my loved ones, peace to you. Fortunate are you and fortunate are those that bore you. Fortunate are you in This World and fortunate you will be in the World to Come, because you took it upon yourselves to crown Me on this night. It has been many years since my crown has fallen, and there has been no one to comfort Me. I had been cast to the dust embracing the filth, but now you have restored the crown.

Strengthen yourselves my dear ones; forge ahead my beloved; be happy and joyous, and know that you are among the exalted. You merited to be in the King’s palace. The voice of your Torah and breath of your mouths arose before God and pierced through the surroundings and many firmaments, until the messenger-angels on high were quieted, and the fire-angels hushed and all God’s lofty army listened to your voices.

I am the Mishna that admonishes mankind. I have come to speak to you. If only there were ten of you, you would have ascended higher. Even so, you have elevated yourselves and those who bore you. You are fortunate, my dear ones, for because of you, sleep passed from the eyes of those who bore you. I have been summoned this night through those gathered in this great and prestigious city. You are not like those lying on their beds, sleeping a sleep that is one-sixtieth of death, besmirching their beds. You bound to the One and have pleased Him.

If you could imagine even one thousandth myriad of my pain, no joy could enter your hearts, no laughter could escape your mouths, considering that on your account I have been cast to the dust. Therefore, strengthen and fortify yourselves my children, my dear ones who glorify Me. Do not halt your efforts, for the thread of kindness is drawn to you, and your Torah is sweet before Him.

Therefore, stand my sons, my dear ones, on your feet and elevate me. With a loud voice, as on Yom Kippur, declare, ‘Blessed is the name of his glorious kingdom for ever and ever.'” Move to the Land of Israel…Do not value your belongings, for you will partake of the best of the supernal levels…

Standing on our feet, we recited aloud, as bidden. The voice then resumed:

Fortunate are you, my children. Return to your learning and do not stop one minute. Move to the Land of Israel, because not all times are equal, and there is no preventing salvation, whether by much or by a little. Do not value your belongings, for you will partake of the best of the supernal levels.
And if you desire and will obey, the choicest of that land you will consume. Therefore, hurry and travel there for I am the cause that sustains you, and will continue to sustain you. Peace to you in your houses, and peace in all there is to you. Eternal God gives strength to His people and blesses them with peace’.

The lack of a quorum had imposed a severe limitation, as we were told. They answered that they would afford us this opportunity on the second night (of Shavuot): we would join and be ten. We consented even though we had slept not a wink the first night.

On this occasion, however, the voice did not wait until we started to recite the Mishna. Nor did it wait until midnight (as it had the night before, when it began exactly at midnight), but it made itself heard immediately. As we were reading the verses of Shema, the voice of our cherished one knocked and began, “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 He taught,

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. These matters continued at great length. All who were present, resolved to turn to God with all their might.

12 responses to “Shavuot Night Syndrome

  1. – I think Rb Wolbe z”l quotes the voice as having come from the Aron Hakodesh, not Maran Beis Yosef

    – I was under the impression that the Gr”a rejected angelic intermediaries on the basis that since lo huchshar hador therefore the shvilim were niskalkel and the torah would be krum (Reb Chaim Volozhin).

    – Rb Wolbe z”l actually does quote the above maaseh with the aim of inspiring people to greater heights in learning, I don’t think he means that you will hear anything though, just that it is humanly possible

    • The Gra just pushed off receiving Torah from the magid, not the rest of the instructions. The Seforim take it literally not as just an inspiration, and it was directly to R. Yosef Karo. Go learn the Sefer Magid Meisharim, which is Karo’s diary of his experiences and what he learned from the visitor.

  2. I meant that Rb Wolbe takes the actual experience as an inspiration for modern aspirants.

    The responses of the maggid to the Beis Yosef seem cryptic (sometimes a passuk) and given to different interpretations.

  3. walter benjamin

    From a very simplistic point of view there is no obligation to remain awake on Shavuot night. It was instituted with the advent of the Zohar which appeared at the end of the 13th century and the expectation of ‘revelations’ seems to be the fruit of the imagination of some which spread to the masses.
    As far a ‘maggidim’ go, Maran’s magid may have been his own conciousness/mind? speaking to him as the ‘revelations’ contained therein are of no stupendous importance-‘don’t eat beans, etc’ באידך גיסא the magid of Nathan of Gaza and the Ramchal revealed some identical secrets to both of them and seeing the consequences IMHO the maggid probably went into retirement or at least occultation.
    n.b. yes, I am assuming the the Ramchal and Nathan had the same magid.

  4. It’s a shame that this man of science can’t have true and simple belief in the metaphysical and supernatural and felt compelled to throw in an underhanded snipe. It’s precisely this attitude that fuels Haredi objections to a normative secular education. This man is spiritually handicapped and no quote from Rav soloveitick can whitewash this.

  5. My own reaction would be very suspicious of statements coming from any source, human or magid, that included so much flattery. For example: “…know that you are among the exalted. You merited to be in the King’s palace.” That is not the sort of comment that most teachers would make even to their most promising students, but perhaps because of my secular upbringing I just do not know the type of discussion that takes place between teachers and students in yeshivas.

  6. Your former head of psychiatry friend has seen those who get Shavous night syndrome, but the students who actually have a maggid speak to them don’t go to the the psych unit, so he had and has no experience with them.

  7. Metaphysical naturalism views such events as ontologically impossible. It also views God and the soul in the same way. If we have a different ontological position we must at least admit the possibility of such events.

  8. re: “My own reaction would be very suspicious of statements coming from any source, human or magid, that included so much flattery”

    I can’t see the difference between this and “veatem tiheyu li mamleches cohanim ve’goy kadosh”

    There you go, it’s a proof for Slabodka

  9. re: “veatem tiheyu li mamleches cohanim ve’goy kadosh”

    There is a significant difference between: 1. an apparent challenge, and 2. apparent flattery.

    I understand that criticism of such an outstanding rabbi as Yosef Karo should be approached with considerable caution, but I feel very uncomfortable with literature of a type that would be these days be classified as channeled.

  10. I would imagine the communication occurs backwards.

    i.e. the ‘voice being directed at Rabbi Caro’ means that Rabbi Caro achieved this level of cognisance which therefore reverberated through him and was made accessable to the others present.

    I do not think you would have been able to electronically record the voice. Similar to Avraham’s comment ‘shevu lachem poh im hachamor’ – as the rest of the company could see neither a mountain or the cloud. Hence had you video’d the akeidah it would not have come out.

    So it is more indicative of Rabbi Caro’s internal state that being ‘channeled communication’

  11. PC wrote: “…Rabbi Caro achieved this level of cognisance which therefore reverberated through him and was made accessable to the others present.”

    So it seems. But there are a number if issues. One is that the “level of cognisance” of any human (including R. Karo) is certain to very on different occasions, or even minute to minute on the same occasion. If the level of cognisance varies, it is it not likely that the quality of the messages will vary also? But no one, not even the person transmitting the messages, has any way to to evaluate that. In fact the impression given is that all the message is from a unified source.

    If, on the other hand, we understand that the building of the vessel to hold the light is entirely our own work, it is also understood that the downflow from Chochma to Bina is will not exceed what the vessel can hold. That is our own responsibility because it is our own work.

    In the R. Karo communications there seems to be an implication that the vessel is not his, but the vessel of the communicator. Perhaps. But you will understand, I hope, if I remain doubtful.

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