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How About a Little Russian Roulette?

By Tzvi Fishman
1/11/2011, 12:00 AM

As we have written on several occasions, the time of the year most favorable for rectifying sexual transgression is the "Shovavim" period, which extends for another five weeks. These weeks parallel our Exodus from Egypt, from both physical bondage and cultural bondage to the immoral ways of the Egyptians, whose culture was highlighted by the pursuit of material pleasures and sexual licentiousness, very much like the culture of America today.

Tired and beaten down by the first series of plagues, Pharaoh was ready to let the Jews hold the prayer gathering they had requested, but only in Egypt. Moshe refused his offer as being out of the question. Holiness and impurity cannot exist in the same place. To serve Hashem, we have to break free fom the culture of Egyprt, from the chains of immorality and spiritual pollution, and sanctify ourselves, in order to be worthy of receiving the Torah. Thus, during the period of “Shovavim,” a Jew is called upon to sanctify himself even in matters that are permitted to him, like in his speaking, his eating, his relations with his wife.

"You're playing with fire!"


My dear friends, please don’t take lightly the advice and admonishment of our Sages by thinking that the “Shovavim” period and its customs are just a lot of superstitious nonsense, G-d forbid. A person who looks at immodest sites on the Internet, or who is lax in maintaining the proper holiness during marital relations, is playing with fire. He is engaging in a dangerous game of Russian roulette. It’s just a matter of time that either he, or his wife, or his children will suffer a tragedy, or a serious illness, or some other painful tribulation, G-d forbid, or the early warnings that Hashem sends in the form of  back pains, prostate, migraines, eye problems, or marital friction, or troubles with the kids. For this reason, our Sages call out to us to return in repentance at this time of “Shovavim,” saying, “Shuvu banim shovavim,” (Jeremiah, 3:14) “Return you rebellious children.”

"Go to sleep, sweetheart, I'm just checking out the late news."


Our Sages teach that the spilling of semen in vain is a very grave transgression, punishable by death at the Hands of Heaven, before one’s allotted time, may G-d have mercy, like in the case of Er and Onan (Bereshit, 38:6-10). Spilling of semen in vain can come about, not only through masturbation, unscrupulous Internet viewing, and nocturnal emissions during dreams, but also during marital relations, either before or after the marital union, so married couples must also take care to conduct matters in holiness. Needless to say, other blatant sexual transgressions such as pre-marital sex, sexual relations with non-Jews, adultery, homosexuality, the use of condoms, etc, also bring about the spilling of semen in vain. Because semen contains myriads of living souls, when a person willfully transgresses, or errs in whatever manner, these souls, and the Holy Names of Hashem which they possess, are lost and compelled to wander painfully in an impure netherworld, unless they are rectified through the sincere t’shuva of the person who sinned. The best time for this repentance, to rescue these spiritual “children,” “banim shovavim,” from bondage, is the period of “Shovavim.”

"Shuvu banim shovavim!"

In other blogs and articles on the website, we have listed the various customs of “Shovavim” and the recommended “Tikunim.” For most people, a stringent regiment of fasting is not practical. So what can a normal person do?

I myself try to learn more Torah than usual. The Torah is filled with the Names of Hashem, and through its learning, we rectify the Names we blemished through our misdeeds. It is also important to give more tzedakah (charity). On Mondays and Thursdays, I fast during the day. Since the days are short this time of year, it isn’t very difficult. For people who find fasting overly stressful or weakening, the fast can be redeemed by donating charity. I try to nap in the early evening each day for a half hour, so I’ll have the strength to recite “Tikun Hatzot,” the midnight lament over the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and over the exile, which helps rectify the anguish we caused the Shechinah through our misdoings. Thursdays is a good time to join a gathering in reciting one of the powerful “Tikun HaYesod” prayers that have been formulated by our Sages to cleanse a person of sexual sin, and to return the lost souls to the soul-bank in Heaven. Since staying up all night, learning Torah and reciting “Tikunim” and Tehillim, is considered a “Tikun Karet,” an atonement that nullifies a decree of excision (being cut off before one’s time), G-d forbid, I try to stay awake Thursday nights, focusing on Torah learning and repentance. If one finds it difficult to do this alone without falling asleep, and he can’t get to an all-night “Shovavim” gathering, it is possible to invite some friends to learn together, having plenty of tasty refreshments on hand to keep the participants awake. If one starts a little before midnight, after reciting “Tikun Hatzot” and doing some Torah learning, and reciting a "Tikun HaYesod" prayer, like the "Tikun HaKlali," it’s already 4am and time to jump into a refreshing mikvah and pray the first morning prayer at “Vatikin.” Before you know it, the night has passed, and sandbags of the spiritual pollution that has been damaging your life falls off your shoulders, drowned by the vivifying waters of Torah and the pre-dawn mikvah.

This year, I hope to add, blee nader, a few “Taanit Debor” to the repertoire – fasts from speaking, which I will write about in the near future, please G-d.

If all of this seems overwhelming, then pick something and try to follow it through with heartfelt repentance. Our Sages teach that if a person does even a little below in this world to purify himself, then he is sanctified greatly from Above.

Happy Shovavim!