Here comes 'Shovavim'

During this period one should avoid anger and criticism, even for Torah. One should shun cynicism, frivolity, arrogance, and be very humble.

Tzvi Fishman ,

Tikkun Shovavim ceremony, Meron
Tikkun Shovavim ceremony, Meron
Flash 90

If you want to follow the advice of the Sages of the Kabbala, you’ll take advantage of this once-in-a-year opportunity and put a little effort in redressing transgressions which you may have committed in your s@xual life.

‘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 s@xual transgressions (Arizal, Shaar HaYichudim, 4:3). Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook writes of a future time when the world will admire Israel's quest for s@xual purity as highlighted by the special fasts and prayers of Shovavim (Orot HaKodesh, part 3, pg. 296).

During Shovavim, in non-Corona years, many Jews gather on Thursdays in synagogues throughout Israel to recite special prayers, called ‘Tikun Yesod’, to cleanse the deep blemishes of s@xual transgression. ‘Tikun HaYesod’ means rectifying the spiritual channel, called ‘Yesod’, which brings Divine blessings to the individual and to the Nation. The foremost Kabbalists emphasize the great tribulations and sufferings caused by transgressions like m@sturb@tion, s@x out of wedlock, s@x with non-Jews, violations of Niddah, and the sin of homos@xu@lity. Joining the list today is viewing illicit sites on the Internet, which causes great damage to the holy Jewish soul, may G-d have mercy.

It may very well be that the Coronavirus is plaguing us precisely because of the plague of immorality which infests homes all over the world via computers and smartphones. The holy Kabbalist, Rabbi Yaacov Abuchatzera, of blessed memory, grandfather of the Baba Sali, writes that the terrible tribulations that fell upon the Jewish People in Exile, as set forth in the Torah portion, “Bechukotai,” stem from s@xual transgressions: “Our Sages have stated that the majority of man’s sufferings, whether through disease, pestilence, war, or famine result from transgressions to the Brit.” Interestingly, the word Corona in English is associated with a crown (derived from the crown-shaped form of the COVID-19 molecule) and also with the male reproductive organ, the head of which is called corona).

At risk of oversimplification of esoteric ideas, one who bears the stains of s@xual misconduct is like one who is constantly accompanied by an 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 he 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’ known as taanit dibur.

The Tikun HaYesod prayers and accompanying fasts are in lieu of the 84 fasts that the Arizal prescribes for each s@xual 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. A person should shun cynicism, frivolity and arrogance, and be very humble. Every day, it is recommended to learn at least one complete chapter of Psalms and study chapters of the Mishnaic tractate Taharot.

The Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, of blessed memory, did not prescribe fasting. Rather, he recommended daily penitential prayers, and adding a greater fear of Heaven to one's service of Hashem by, for instance, saying blessings over food with extra concentration, and behaving with extra modesty during marital relations.

There are many ways to do tshuva and Shovavim is a great opportunity. But don’t let the weight of your mistakes get you down. Be happy! Rabbi Kook emphasizes that whatever small steps you make toward purification, your very desire to repent fills the universe with light!

Nahar Shalom