Shavu'ot or the Festival of Weeks is the second of the three major Jewish festivals. Due to the annual counting of the Omer it is perhaps the most anticipated of our observances, other than the weekly Shabbat. Shavu'ot is Day 50 of the Omer count.
Beginning on the second day of Pesach (Passover) observant Jews "count the omer" each day until the day before Shavu'ot. This is 49 days or 7 full weeks. This is the meaning of שבועות ("Shavu'ot"), "Weeks." This is also the second of the three traditional agricultural festivals. The other two are Pesach and Sukkot.
As Chag ha-Bikkurim -- the Festival of the First Fruits of the Seven Species with which Eretz Y'israel is blessed -- Shavu'ot reminds us how our ancestors brought the first fruits of their crops to the Holy Temple in joyous thanksgiving. This reminds us today that we too should offer our very best to HaShem. Thanking and pleasing HaShem should be our first priority.
Historically the festival is also known as Chag Matan Torateinu, the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah. This is its premier importance because the giving of the Torah is what makes our people unique and makes all else possible. According to Rabbinic reckoning, HaShem gave us the Torah on the 6th of Sivan in the Hebrew year 2448 (i.e. Wednesday, May 2nd, 1313 BCE). Shavu'ot remembers this important event and the counting of the omer draws us day by day from Pesach to the giving of the Torah.
Note that we speak of the "Giving of the Torah," not of the day we "received" it. This points to a very important Jewish understanding. Just as HaShem did not "create" the world and then leave us to our own devises as imagined by the Deists, so too He "gave" the Torah to Adam in some form, and later gave its entirety to our Teacher Moshe. HaShem did not leave us without further instructions however. G-d continues to "give" the Torah to us each and every day. Likewise HaShem continues His work of creation each day. This is why religious Jews recite the Modeh Ani upon awakening each morning, thanking HaShem for restoring life. HaShem is "alive" and He works in and through His people through the gifts He bestows. For this reason, Shavu'ot recalls the first Giving of the Torah.
Shavu'ot is also known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day of the omer count. Shavu'ot has no connection with the Christian holiday of Pentecost by the way. The time proximity and name has no religious significance.
Shavu'ot Practices:Torah study:
Because we just received the Torah we are very excited to read and study it! Such a gift! It is therefore customary to stay up all night on Erev Shavuot enthusiastically reading and studying. Among the things we read and study are the Ten Commandments and other writings related to Har Sinai. Study of the Talmud is appropriate (for Jews) because the Oral Torah was also revealed at Har Sinai to Moshe according to the Rabbis.
Also traditional is the reading of the Book of Ruth, recorded by the prophet Samuel. It is appropriate to read the Book of Ruth on the second day of Shavu'ot for two reasons: First, because Shavu'ot is a harvest festival and the Book of Ruth gives us a picture of the harvest, and how the poor were treated in the harvest season with sympathy and love. Secondly, because Shavu'ot is the anniversary of the passing of King David, who was the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz, whose story is told in the Book of Ruth.
If you are Jewish, try and study until the coming of dawn and then welcome the day with Tefillin and the Shacharit prayers. If you are not Jewish but love HaShem according to your understanding, feel free to stay up as late as you wish reading the Tanach. If you stay up until the morning light, give HaShem thanks with personal, secluded prayers (known as Hitbodedut). Hitbodedut is good for all people at all times!
Tikkun Leil Shavu'ot,
Some Jews read the Tikkun Leil Shavu'ot. This includes passages from every Parsha in the Torah, every book of Tanach, the first and last Mishnah of every Tractate, a listing of the 613 Mitzvot, as well as sections from the Holy Zohar. The Arizal and later the Sh’lah Hakadosh compiled these readings.
This is a great time to approach HaShem, to engage in soul corrections, and to strengthen ones connection with the Holy One. As Rebbe Nachman says:The Misnagdim (opponents of the Chassidim) say that the main thing is to study Torah. The Chassidim say the main thing is prayer. But I say: Pray and study and pray.
Siach Sarfey Kodesh 1-87
Sincere personal prayer from the heart, known as Hitbodedut is the key to rectifying the soul and establishing ever greater harmony with HaShem!
Bring in Nature
It is traditional to decorate our homes and shuls with the gifts of nature:
This is done in thanks to HaShem's natural blessings to our people and to acknowledge our dependance on Him.
- Flowers: Our Sages taught that although Har Sinai was situated in a desert, in honor of the Torah the desert bloomed and sprouted flowers.
- Greens: Our Sages taught that on Shavu'ot judgment is rendered regarding the trees of the field.
Many observant Jews will have at least one meal that is dairy only during Shavu'ot. The reasons for this custom varies but I like to consider that the Torah is the "mother's milk" of HaShem's people. The Hebrew for milk is Chalav. This word is numerically 40, which corresponds to the 40 days Moses spent on Har Sinai. Others hold that once the people received the laws of Kashrut with the giving of the Torah they could not eat meat until their utensils had been properly kashered.
May your festival bring you joy!
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