Shavuot: Israel Celebrates Receiving the Torah

June 1, 2017

by: Ilse Posselt

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The seven species of the Land of Israel

Thursday, 01 June 2017 | The rhythm of life in the Land of Promise is governed by a cycle of annual holidays, days set aside in the 12-month Israeli calendar to celebrate what Leviticus 23:1 calls, “The feasts of the Lord…” Sunset on Tuesday, 30 May 2017, ushered in the festival of Shavuot, the fourth of the seven festivals ordained by the Almighty.

Shavuot, which simply means “weeks” in Hebrew, is a one-day festival that falls seven weeks or 50 days after Passover. During the time of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, Shavuot was the second of the pilgrimage festivals, the three feast days—together with Passover and Sukkot—on which Israelite males were required to travel to Israel’s capital to appear before the Lord in the Temple.

Shavuot has a deep spiritual and agricultural significance. Agriculturally, it falls between the grain and barley harvests and celebrates the ripened produce of the land being brought to the Temple as a first fruit offering. The feast is thus also known as Hag HaBikkurim, the second Feast of Firstfruits. Yet the holiday also has a profound spiritual significance. The Feast of Weeks commemorates the day on which the Almighty gave His instructions, the Torah (Gen.–Deut.), to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai some 3,300 years ago.

We find the account in Exodus 19. A fledgling nation of former slaves finds themselves en route from Egypt to the land which the Almighty had promised to the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their Exodus had started on Passover, when God delivered them from the Angel of Death—and the cruel oppression of Pharaoh—through the blood of the Passover Lamb. Seven weeks had passed since the nation known as Israel had left a plague-ravaged Egypt behind. And then, coming up to the fiftieth day, the man leading the Israelites to the Promised Land, Moses, received an instruction from God, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people” (Exod. 19:10-11).

The rest of the story is well known. Israel heeds God’s command, prepares themselves according to His instructions and gathers at Mount Sinai. Moses heads up the mountain as the nation’s representative and receives from the Almighty the Torah.

Today, more than 3,300 years later, the offspring of those who stood assembled at the base of Mount Sinai on the morning of the first Shavuot continue to commemorate God sharing His instructions with the Israelites. And every year, the Jewish people use this day to rededicate themselves to the gift from the hand of the Almighty.

Shavuot begins at sundown on the 5th of the biblical month of Sivan and lasts until nightfall on the 6th of Sivan. The people of the Promised Land prepare for the feast with a practice called “Counting the Omer,” marking the days from Passover to the Feast of Weeks with anticipation. The instruction for this is found in Leviticus 23:15-16, “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath…”

The number of days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavuot is exactly 49 days or 7 weeks, which is the reason behind the name of the feast. The practice of counting the days from one feast to the next has a very specific purpose: it underscores the crucial connection between Passover and Shavuot. While Passover freed the Jewish people from the hand of Pharaoh and physical slavery, it was the giving of the Torah on Shavuot that led Israel forth into spiritual freedom.

On Shavuot, Israel celebrates the generosity of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They celebrate the overflow of His blessings in not only receiving the Torah but also the land of Israel, a land of milk and honey in which the seven species—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates—grow in abundance. As such, the fruits of the land feature as a firm favorite on the menu of many Shavuot meals. It is also considered a Shavuot custom to feast on foods rich in dairy, like cheesecake, pastries and quiches.

Sundown on the eve of Shavuot marks the start of another Feast of Weeks tradition. Jewish tradition says that the first Shavuot morning was marred by the fact that the Israelites overslept and that Moses had to wake them up for their appointment at Mount Sinai. As such, many Jewish men today will spend the night of Shavuot wide awake and studying the Torah with friends and family. Studying in a community is said to be aimed at recreating the people of Israel standing at the base of Sinai awaiting the gift of the Torah. This tradition is known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which translates to “Rectification of Shavuot Night.”

As part of the all-night study session the Jewish people read the Book of Ruth. The reason for this choice is the fact that the story of the young Moabitess who came to the land of Israel with her mother-in-law took place during the barley harvest, round about the time of Shavuot. Moreover, Ruth is considered as a sincere convert who left her people and her gods behind to embrace the people and the God of Israel. And on the morning of the first Shavuot, all Jewish people were converts, having accepted the Torah and its instructions.

Posted on June 1, 2017

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 01 June 2017)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Photo License: Wikimedia