By Rabbi Karen Thomashow.
There are at least three ways in which the Hebrew word Tikkun is used in our tradition. The first is a use on its own—the word “Tikkun.” Then, there is the two-word well-known principle “Tikkun Olam.” Finally, we have the three-word phrase of relevance this week “Tikkun Leil Shavuot.” Each has its own significance, while in good Jewish form, each is related to one another.
If you have ever read Torah, and practiced from a book or a photocopy of this book which has vowels on one side and no vowels on the other, you have in fact studied from a Tikkun. It is the case that when a Sofer, or Torah scribe, writes a Torah, that Sofer is working from a Tikkun in the first place. The word “Tikkun” means to fix or amend/correct. The earliest scribes found disconcerting passages in the Torah text that were lacking in respect for God, for example, so they made changes to the text of the Bible. They recorded their changes in these Tikkun books. We understand that there were as many as 18 such Tikkuns. An example of a correction made is Ezekiel 8:17 which once read “Lo, they put the branch to His nose.” It now reads, based on some adjustment so as not to offend the Divine, “Lo, they put a branch to their nose.” In short, the Tikkun is a corrected Torah text.
Since the 1950s, the term Tikkun Olam (the fixing or repairing of the world) has become synonymous with social action, and for good reason. In the early part of the Common Era, the early rabbis described legislation which gave protection to those typically at a disadvantage in similar terms–Tikkun Olam. However, the term used today also has its origins in Jewish mysticism of the 16th century. Rabbi Isaac Luria, at the time, explained creation from a kabbalistic point of view: God contracted God’s self to make room for creation. Much of the contraction became contained in vessels which shattered upon creation. It is partially incumbent upon us to join the task of repairing, or fixing, the broken shards within the world, and thus restoring the Divine. Truthfully, today’s social justice associations link both layers of interpretation, while most closely returning to its second century first appearance.
Tikkun Leil Shavuot
In Jewish communities throughout the world this Saturday night, Jews will have the option to gather for a Tikkun Leil (night of) Shavuot, an all-night study session on this anniversary of receiving Torah. If you resonated with the Tikkun text described above, then it may come as no surprise that the study session gets its name from the fact that many individuals study from the Tikkun itself on this special evening. Interestingly, studying the Tikkun text turned into studying Talmudic texts, which has also evolved into studying a variety of Jewish texts and topics over the course of the evening. It may also come as no surprise, if you read the aforementioned history of Tikkun Olam, that the practice of an all-night study session derives so too from the Jewish mystical enlightenment of the 16th century. In fact, this makes the Tikkun Leil Shavuot a relatively recent innovation.
What is of special note is that given the multiple uses of the term Tikkun, it should not be lost that through the study of a Tikkun on Tikkun Leil Shavuot, we can achieve Tikkun Olam.