On billboards throughout Israel, posters announcing the commencement of Shovavim are beginning to appear in an assortment of bright, attractive colors. Shovavim refers to the six-week period which begins the week that the Torah portion of Shemot is read.
The term Shovavim is an acronym of the beginning letter of the six consecutive Torah portions beginning with Shemot. According to Kabbalah, this period is especially conducive to rectifying sexual transgressions (Arizal, Shaar HaYichudim, 4:3). Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook writes of a future time when the world will admire Israel’s quest for sexual purity as highlighted by the special fasts and prayers of Shovavim(Orot HaKodesh, part 3, pg. 296).
During Shovavim, Jews gather on Thursdays in synagogues throughout Israel to recite special prayers, called “Tikun Yesod” to cleanse the deep blemishes caused by sexual transgression, otherwise known as transgressions to the Brit. Tikun HaYesod means rectifying the spiritual channel, called “Yesod,” which brings Divine blessings to the individual and to the Jewish Nation. The foremost Kabbalists emphasize the great tribulations and sufferings caused by sexual transgressions. Joining the list today is watching pornography on the internet, which causes great damage to the Jewish soul, and brings terrible sufferings on the person and his loved ones through the harmful spiritual forces that a person creates and unleashes into his home through his transgressions of the Torah commandments involved in looking at forbidden images.
At risk of oversimplification of esoteric ideas, one who bears the stains of sexual misconduct is like one who is constantly accompanied by n invisible cloud of spiritual pollution, which interferes with all aspects of life. Kabbalists emphasize that usual modes of repentance do not suffice for transgressions which bring about the wasting of semen, and that they can only be rectified by a “great and constant penitence” (Zohar on Shemot, 3b). Thus, Kabbalists formulated special prayers and rectifications (tikunim) for the Shovavim period.
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, and not succumb to depression and despair.
He taught that the greatest weapon against the evil inclination was Torah study day and night. Additionally, he prescribed ‘fasting from speech’ (taanit dibur), asserting, based on esoteric works (Chid”a, Ahavat HaKodesh, Tzipora Shamir, 7:101), that anyone who committed transgressions through speech was certain to commit sexual transgressions as well.
The Tikun HaYesod prayers and accompanying repentance are in lieu of the 84 fasts that the holy Kabbalist, the Arizal, prescribed for each transgression of spilling seed in vain (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 who are 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. A person should also shun cynicism, frivolity and arrogance, and be very humble. Another recommended practice is to learn every day during the Shovavim period at least one complete chapter of Psalms and study chapters of the Mishnaic tractate Taharot.
For more information on Shovavim, check out www.jewishsexuality.com. If you can’t get to the Shovavim prayer gatherings, studying the articles posted on the site is the next best thing to being there. You’ll find Rebbe Nachman’s famous “Tikun HaKlalli”translated into English, along with other recommended tikunim, as well as the most important and definitive Kabbalistic essays on the subject, including essays from the Zohar, the Arizal, the Ramban’s Letter of Holiness, the Baal HaTanya, Rebbe Nachman, Rabbi Yaacov Abuchatzera, selections from “Taharat HaKodesh,” and Questions and Answers covering everything you always wanted to know about Jewish Sexuality but were too embarrassed to ask.