The holiday of Shavuot שָׁבוּעוֹת (lit: weeks) is a religious and an agriculture holiday – חָג – khag.
- It is one of the three pilgrimage שְׁלֹשֶׁת רְגָלִים – shlo-shet r’galeem – to the holy temple in Jerusalem: פֶּסַח Pesach (Passover), שָׁבוּעוֹת Shavuot and סֻּכּוֹת Sukkot. Pilgrimage is a mitzvah mentioned in the Torah:
- In English, the holiday is called Pentecost from the word ‘penta’ – 50. Counting from the first day after Passover 7 weeks and on the 50th day we celebrate Shavuot.
- This holiday is also called: חג הַקָּצִיר – khag ha-ka-tzeer – the festival of the harvest. This time of year the wheat is being harvested. It began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot.
- It is also called: The Time of Giving the Torah. זְמָן מַתָּן תּוֹרָה – Zmahn Matan Torah . It is believed that at that time, children of Israel received the Torah at Mount Sinai – הָר סִינָי – har Si-nai. The Torah tells us that the seven-week Counting of the Omer (an ancient Hebrew dry measure, that Hebrews had to bring to the Temple), beginning on the second day of Passover, to be immediately followed by Shavuot. This counting of days and weeks is understood to express anticipation and desire for the giving of the Torah.
- It is also called יוֹם הַבִּכּוּרִים – Yome ha-bee-ku-reem – the Day of the First Fruit. The word בִּכּוּרִים comes from the root ב.כ.ר – which means ‘first’. In modern Hebrew, it is used to denote the first born – בְּכוֹר, בְּכוֹרָה. The בִּכּוּרִים were brought from the Seven Species שִׁבְעַת הַמִינִים – sheev-aht hameeneem – for which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat – חִיטָה – kheeta, barley, – שְׂעוֹרָה – s’o’rah, grapes – גֶּפֶן – gefen, figs – תְּאֵנִים – t’e-neem, pomegranates רִימוֹנִים – ree-mone, olives – זֵיתִים – zey-teem and dates – תְּמָרִים – t’e-neem. (Deut. 8:8).
- During Shavuot, the custom is to eat dairy. Why? there are several explanations. 1. When the Children of Israel went back down to their ‘homes’ after receiving the Torah they did not have time to prepare meat dishes that require slaughtering, waiting for the blood to dry etc. so they prepared food that is faster to make, ie., food containing dairy. 2. As the mother gives milk to her child, so God gave the Torah to his children. 3. The Torah is compared to milk by King Solomon, who wrote: “Like honey and milk, it lies under your tongue” (Song of songs 4:11).
- The night of Shavuot is called Tikkun Leil Shavuot – תִּיקוּן לֵיל שָׁבוּעוֹת where men stay all night and read from the Torah and especially from the Book of Ruth. Why? The explanation is: the night before the Torah was given, the Israelites retired early to be well-rested for the momentous day ahead. They overslept and Moses had to wake them. That is why today they are making up the damage (תִּקּוּן – repair) for not being ready on time, by studying all night long.
- The gematria (a Kabbalistic method of interpreting the Hebrew scriptures by computing the numerical value of words, based on those of their constituent letters) of the Hebrew word Khalav (חלב, milk) is 40, corresponding to the 40 days and 40 nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai before bringing down the Torah.
- Why are we reading from the Book of Ruth? Because the story of Ruth (the grandmother of King David) is told during the season of the harvest.
- The decoration of homes and synagogues with greenery – יֶרֻק – Yerek. Why? According to the rabbis, Mount Sinai suddenly blossomed with flowers in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on its summit.
Wishing you a Happy Shavuot.