If you have ever visited a yeshiva, you undoubtedly saw some yeshiva boys shuckling while learning Torah.
Actually, you don’t even have to go to a yeshiva. Stop by our Chabad House for Shabbat services, and you will also see me shuckling while I pray.
(For those unfamiliar with the term, shuckling is a Yiddish term for shaking, usually referring to rocking back and forth while praying and studying Torah.)
Why do we shuckle?
For fun, I decided to ask ChatGPT what the benefits of shuckling are. Being the know-it-all robot, it didn’t hesitate before listing all the possible benefits:
It can stimulate blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which may improve cognitive function and memory. It can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve posture by relaxing the muscles and joints. It can induce a trance-like state that can enhance the joy of praying and studying.
It did warn me that “these benefits are not proven by scientific research. … Shuckling is primarily a spiritual practice that aims to connect with G-d and His words, not a physical exercise. Therefore, one should not shuckle for the sake of health alone, but rather for the sake of devotion and concentration.”
Sounds pretty impressive, but there is one problem: I never heard anything in yeshiva about stimulating blood flow or inducing a trance-like state. Come to think of it, I never heard anything about shuckling at all. It was something we did without anyone ever telling us to do it.
There are various reasons explaining shuckling, but one of the fascinating ones focuses on it as an expression of our inner feelings, a kind of positive restlessness because our souls always yearn to reach higher.
“The soul of man is a candle of G-d” (Proverbs 20). When we look at the candle, we see that it also shuckles. When you light a candle, the flame never stands still; it always flickers and sways.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, in his book Tanya, explains:
“[The flame’s] nature is always to flicker upward, for the flame of the fire intrinsically seeks to part from the wick that holds it and to unite with its source above — in the universal element of fire.”
So the candle shuckles, and when we pray and learn Torah, acts that connect us with G-d, we also shuckle because our inner flames are burning brightly and want to reach a higher and more profound connection with G-d.
Our parsha discusses the menorah candles, which can remind us to incorporate more shuckling into our lives. Whether you shuckle while you pray or not, shuckling represents the idea of constant movement, yearning to be higher, better, and more connected to G-d, which is something we all can benefit from.
As they say in Yiddish, “Gib zich a shuckle.” Let’s give ourselves a shuckle!
Mendy Kaminker is the rabbi of Chabad of Hackensack and an editorial member of Chabad.org. He welcomes your comments at rabbi@ChabadHackensack.com