Shavuot is the second of the three ‘Regalim’- Pilgrim Festivals. It is celebrated for 2 days outside Israel and for 1 day in Israel. The name ‘Shavuot’ means ‘weeks’ because it falls 7 weeks after the 2nd day of Pesach. It falls on the 6th day of Sivan.
Shavuot marks the day that the Torah was given to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. That day was a very unusual one, with lightning, thunder sound of a shofar and the earth shaking. The first two commandments were heard directly from God when Moses came down from the Mountain, his face glowing, he relayed the remaining eight Commandments to the Children of Israel.
In Biblical times, Shavuot was at the time when the Jewish people harvested their wheat crop and their last grain of the season, and began harvesting their fruit crops.
An important part of the celebration of Shavuot in those times was the ceremony of bringing the “first fruits”, or bikkurim, of the harvest to the Temple as an offering of thanks to God.
The bikkurim were carried in beautifully decorated baskets. Families would gather together to walk to Jerusalem and they would sing, dance and have music playing whilst they walked. When they arrived at the Temple, they gave their offerings to the priests who would bless them.
DIFFERENT NAMES FOR SHAVUOT
There are many different names for the festival of Shavuot. Some of them are:
1. Zman Matan Torateinu ‘Festival of Giving of the Torah’
2. Chag HaBikkurim ‘Festival of the First Fruits’
3. Chag haKatzir ‘Harvest Festival’
4. Chag Matan Torah ‘Festival of the giving of the Torah’
5. In the Talmud, Shavuot is also called “Atzeret,” which means “The Stoppage,” a reference to the prohibition against work on this holiday.
HOW DO WE CELEBRATE SHAVUOT?
On Shavuot we decorate our synagogues and homes with greenery, flowers and even fruits. This reminds us:
(a) that on the day the Jewish people received the Torah, Mount Sinai bloomed with flowers.
(b) Using greenery also reminds us of the harvests, another main idea of Shavuot.
(c) According to the Midrash, Mount Sinai suddenly blossomed with flowers in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on its summit. Greenery also figures in the story of the baby Moses being found among the bulrushes in a watertight cradle (Ex. 2:3) when he was three months old. Moses was born on 7 Adar and placed in the Nile River on 6 Sivan, the same day he later brought the Jewish nation to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.
2. Learning Torah All Night
Adults spend the eve of Shavuot staying up all night learning Torah. This custom is called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, because the Jews at Sinai were literally caught napping when God wanted to give them the Torah we rectify this by staying up all night learning Torah.
3. Reading the Book of Ruth because
(a) She was a convert and all the Jewish people converted at Har Sinai.
(b) She was the great grandmother of
(c) The story of Ruth took place during the ‘Wheat Harvest’ that culminates in Shavuot.
4. We also read the Book of Tehillim because King David was born and died on Shavuot.
5. Eating Dairy Foods. On Shavuot we eat dairy foods (foods made from milk). Because:
(a) when they received the Torah all their pots and pans needed to be kashered and meat preparation had to wait.
(b) This is based on a verse in Song of songs comparing Torah to milk and honey.
(c) The gematria of chalav is 40 alluding to the 40 days and nights spent by Moshe on Mt. Sinai.
(d) Moshe was born on the 7th of Iyar and was hidden three month later and was found by Bitya and given back to his mother to feed milk on this date of Shavuot.
6. Reading Azharot which sets out the 613 Biblical commandments. Ashkenazim read Akdamot.
7. Some Sephardim read a metaphorical ketubah between God and Israel.