Magid mesharim (Speaker of Truth): On Tikun Leyl Shavuot

Joseph Karo


The words of the perfect scholar, the divine kabbalist, R. Solomon ha-Levi Alkabetz (may the memory of the righteous be for the life of the World-to-Come):

Know that the pious one and myself, his servant and yours—one of the colleagues—agreed to put ourselves at risk on the night of Shavuot and to brush sleep from our eyes. Praise be the Lord, we were successful, for we did not cease for a moment, as you will hear, and your souls shall live [see Isaiah 55:3]. This is the order that I prepared and arranged for that night: from the start of the Torah, we read from the portion of Bere’shit [Genesis 1:1] until “and they were completed” [Genesis 2:1], tunefully and loudly. [ . . . ]

All this was performed in awe and fear, with the correct tune and notes; it is scarcely believable. For the Mishnah, we learnt the Order of Zera‘im,1 after which we studied the method of truth [kabbalah]. When we began to learn the Mishnah and we had studied two tractates, our Creator gave us the merit to hear a voice speaking from the mouth of the pious one (may the Merciful One protect and redeem him)—a great voice, clearly enunciating the letters. All of the neighbors could hear the voice, but they were unable to understand it. There was a long melody, and the voice grew louder and louder [see Exodus 19:19], and we fell upon our faces. None of us were able to retain our composure, due to the great terror and fear. Now, that speech was speaking to us, and it began by saying:

“My friends, the most scrupulous of the scrupulous, my friends and beloved ones, peace be upon you, happy are you and happy are those who bore you; happy are you in this world and happy are you in the world to come [ . . . ] and the voice of your Torah and the breath of your mouths has ascended before the Holy One, blessed be He, and has split through several firmaments and realms until it could rise up. The angels were silent, the seraphim were hushed, the ḥayyot angels stood, and all the heavenly hosts and the Holy One, blessed be He, listened to your voices. Here is the mishnah. [ . . .] Do not cease from study, for a thread of grace is drawn over you, and your Torah is pleasing to the Holy One, blessed be He. Therefore, stand, my friends, upon your feet, and raise me up and declare in loud voice, as on the Day of Atonement, ‘Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever.’”

We stood upon our feet, loosened the knots of our belts and declared in a loud voices, “Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever,” as we had been commanded.

He then said, “Happy are you! Return to your studies, do not stop for a moment. And ascend to the land of Israel, for not all times are equal, and there is no restraint for Him to save by many or by few [see 1 Samuel 14:6]. Your eyes should have no pity on your possessions, as you will eat the goodness of the upper land, and if you are willing and obedient you will eat the goodness of that land [see Isaiah 1:19]. Therefore, hurry and ascend, for I am your provider and I will provide for you. May there be peace for you and peace for your households, and may there be peace for all that is yours [see 1 Samuel 25:6]; the Lord will give strength unto His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace (Psalms 29:11).”

We heard with our own ears all these words, and many other similar wise statements, quite a few great promises. All of us bellowed with tears, from our great joy, and also because we had heard the distress of the Divine Presence, due to our sins, and its voice was like that of an invalid begging us. We then strengthened ourselves until the light of day, while the study did not cease from our mouths, in joy and trembling.

When morning arrived, we went and immersed ourselves, as we had done on the previous two days. There we found the rest of the scholars, who had not been present there that night. We rebuked them and told them about all the goodness that the Lord had done for us. Their hearts died within them [see 1 Samuel 25:37], and they turned their faces aside and bawled. We likewise strengthened ourselves opposite them, for we did not merit anything further on their account, as we stated above. They then said, “Would that we could join together this night, and we can be ten!” We agreed to do so, even though we had not had even a single moment of sleep on the first night. Nor had we had a chance to sleep during the day, as the pious one (may the Merciful One protect and redeem him) had given a sermon following the Afternoon Service and we had sat down there. Despite all this, we girded our loins with strength and we performed the same order on the second night.

Translated by


[“Seeds,” the first Order of the Mishnah, which deals mainly with commandments relating to crops and produce.—Trans.]


Joseph Karo, “Magid mesharim (Speaker of Truth): On Tikun Leyl Shavuot” (manuscript, Safed, 1530s). Published as: Joseph Karo, Sefer magid mesharim (Amsterdam: Jacob Alvares Soto, Moses ibn Yakar Brandon, and Benjamin de Junge, 1708), introduction; Hirsch L. Gordon, The Maggid of Caro (New York: Pardes, 1949), pp. 105–108.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 5.

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