“Shovavim” time is here. Six weeks of opportunity for self-improvement especially pertaining to anger sadness and haughtiness. Here are ten points to help you make the most of these precious days.
1. The time of “Shovavim” has a place of honor in the Jewish calendar. It’s a very special time and the source of this idea is found in the books containing secrets of the Torah, meaning books of Kabbalah, Hassidut, and character development. The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed) said these days are an auspicious time for repairing blemishes of the soul.
2. “Shovavim” is the acronym of the names of the Torah portions read for these six weeks. On a Jewish lunar leap year two weeks are added to this period and then it is called “Shovavim Tat” corresponding to the 2 additional Torah portions read in those weeks.
3. The Sages of the kabbalah revealed to us that the name Shovavim relates to the verse “Return o wayward sons” (Jeremiah 3:14), wayward in Hebrew is “shovav”. This verse describes G-ds calling out to us his children the Nation of Israel that went after their wayward hearts and sinned before Him. G-d calls out to us “Return o wayward sons” and He is waiting for us.
4. The sages of the Kabbalah teach that these days are uniquely suited to repentance and self-improvement. This is the time a Jew can repair the damage wrought up in higher worlds in the heavens that his sins caused.
5. The holy books have very uplifting things to say about the value of these days. They say that Shovavim days are like the 10 days of repentance and prayers are more readily accepted during these days just as during the 10 days of repentance. The purpose of the Shovavim days is to fix our character traits and sanctify our senses to seek out holiness and also to help prevent sadness anger and haughtiness.
6. During the Days of Awe we say “repentance, prayer and charity remove evil decrees”. These 3 paths should be used to purify ourselves on these elevated days.
7. “Repentance” includes fasting and toiling in the study of Torah. (In our generation if a person will find himself being rude to someone else due to fasting he should refrain from voluntary fasts not already on the Jewish calendar. Rabbi Yonah of Gironde states that even refraining from one bite of food is considered a great and worthy deed that helps a person repent. “Prayer” means to brokenheartedly pour your heart out before The Creator and also say Psalms. “Charity” means give more than what you are accustomed to during these days.
8. In the past, many people would fast on these days. Some fasted all day from sunrise to night and ate every night doing this every day of the Shovavim. But already hundreds of years ago the sages said that multiple fasts is not a preferred method of repentance since a person gets week and his function is diminished and his daily routine, including his health, livelihood and Torah study are harmed.
Therefore the Gaon, (Torah Giant) Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna said that if a person wants to repent during the Shovavim days he should make a fast on his speech. This means eat all your regular meals, pray and learn as you always would but be careful not to speak mundane speech all day. Refraining from these words all day is far harder than not eating and with this difficulty we cause pain to ourselves and cleanse our sins in this manner without harming our health or our routine.
9. These are some of the customs of the Shovavim days:
- Fasting every Thusday. Certain communities fast one day in all of the Shovavim.
- Today with our weaker constitutions “Redeeming the Fast” became established. People give the money of their 3 meals to charity to be distributed to the poor that day.
- The power of charity is very effective especially on these Shovavim days. Whoever adds will have added to him from heaven.
- One should add hours to his Torah study routine during the Shovavim days. Four or five hours of consecutive learning is even better.
- There is a custom to recite the Psalms these days. Some communities recite the entire Book of Psalms early Friday morning and some complete it on Shabbat.
- A fast on speech even one day a week is praiseworthy. People careful not to speak vanities on these days’ affects great repairs to his soul. A fast of speech needn’t be for all day. Even an hour refraining from speech outside of Torah, prayer or blessings is very effective.
- In our generation men learn the “Yoreh Deah” section of the “Shulchan Aruch” (Code of Jewish Law from Rabbi Yosef Karo). Most towns have lectures on these topics to increase awareness and observance of these mitzvoth.
10. Toil in Torah and the penitence of the Shovavim days both work on the same roots of our soul, the mind. The importance of the mind is that it is responsible for our free choice. Whoever toils in the wisdom of Torah banishes impure thoughts and repairs his soul.