The festival of Shavuot (“Feast of Weeks” or Pentecost), beginning on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), is the culmination of the 7 weeks (hence the name) of counting the Omer – Sefirat Ha’Omer. We are instructed by G-d (ויקרא כ”ג:ט”ו – Lev. 23:15) to count, from the 2nd day of Pesach, 7 weeks, at the end of these 7 weeks, a measurement (Omer) of first fruits (bikurim) were brought as a sacrifice to the Temple in a joyous parade.
The one-day festival also commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People at Mt. Sinai, and we mark this by learning Torah throughout the night (or at least for part of the night), including a special text that is customarily read – the Tikun Leil Shavuot. Synagogues have all-night study sessions, as do schools, youth groups and social groups (including my own women’s group). It is a wonderful feeling to be outdoors in the middle of the night and still see groups of people going to and from their study sessions.
On Shavuot we eat dairy foods, for various reasons, including the following possible explanations:
Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jews. Included in the Torah are the laws of kashrut (kosher dietary laws), which tell Jews what can and cannot be eaten and in which combination. For instance, dairy and meat cannot be mixed in the same meal and animals must be killed in a certain way in order to be considered kosher. Before the Torah was given the concept of kashrut did not exist. Hence, one explanation for the eating of dairy on Shavuot is that when the Jews received the Torah they did not have the tools they would need to prepare kosher meat. As a result their first meal after receiving the Torah was a dairy meal. (Mishnah Berurah 494:12; Talmud – Bechorot 6b.)
Another possible explanation has to do with Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs). Verse 4:11 says “milk and honey are under your tongue” and some have said that the Torah is like the milk in this verse. Like milk, the Torah sustains us. Hence, a dairy meal on Shavuot celebrates the nourishing quality of the Torah.
The Revelation at Sinai (when the Torah was given to the Jews) occurs directly after their Exodus from slavery in Egypt. This journey is described as one “from the misery of Egypt to a country flowing with milk and honey…” (Exodus 3:8-17). Thus, eating dairy on Shavuot commemorates the sweetness of freedom and the new life that lay before the Jewish people.
I have to admit the cheesecake is one of my favourite parts of the festival! 🙂
We also decorate our synagogues and homes with flowers and greenery to commemorate the way that Mt. Sinai burst into flower in honour of the Torah.
In the morning we read Megillat Ruth (the Book of Ruth) in the synagogue for a couple of reasons: the story takes place at harvest time; and more importantly, Ruth, an ancestor of King David, was a Moabite convert who voluntarily became a member of the Jewish nation.
On the subject of Ruth, Sivan Rahav Meir has written a beautiful post about its meaning and its relevance for today:
I was asked to speak at the Kugel High school in Holon this week about Megillat Ruth and what its message is. I looked for answers and saw that Dr. Yael Ziegler offers an explanation that is very fitting to these pre-election days:
In the Book of Ruth there are seemingly no top headlines, just simple, small everyday deeds. Ruth does acts of kindness for her mother-in-law Naomi and no one knows about it in real time. Boaz behaves kindly and generously with Ruth, and no one gives him a prize for it. Little by little, Ruth and Boaz build a new family that is based upon good middot (character traits), trust and care for others. From these little moments, a new dynasty grows, and thus, from a collection of good, non-dramatic deeds, the most dramatic thing happens: King David is born.
The Book of Ruth makes us get used to looking at reality in a deeper way, with attention to details that are seemingly marginal, yet in the end enter the world of eternity. Who cares about some foreign girl who gleans some sheaves for food? What importance does an old widow even have? Even today one can ask oneself why is it important if we did another little kind deed when no one knows about it? Who cares at all about another Mitzvah or a smile or help we give, what does it even matter? The Book of Ruth teaches us that these are indeed the most important things.
When we see the polarisation of our society and the hatred from one sector to another, we could be tempted to fall into despair. But the following story and video (which also tie in neatly as a Good News Friday item) perfectly illustrate the theme of kindness which Sivan referred to in her post above.
My translation below is followed by the original Hebrew post and the video:
Let’s assume for a moment the question of enlisting the ultra-Orthodox on the side – take half a minute and look at the video, you will see a revolution that comes without politicians, journalists, rabbis or charlatans. Without hatred and without barriers.
For more than a decade, Aharon Gross, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, has come out every week to pamper IDF fighters everywhere, and he comes with a group of ultra-Orthodox who open barbecues and pamper those who protect us with all our heart and generosity. On the newspapers, because they are not looking for honor, but feel a sense of mission of bringing people closer and showing gratitude towards the soldiers.
This is the desired change. The fact that the Haredim that you are used to seeing on your TV screens demonstrating against the military draft do not represent the general community. Slowly and quietly we are seeing more recruits and perhaps the most important part here – their recognition of the Israel Defense Forces. True, for the general population it’s simple common sense but only those who grew up behind those walls can understand the meaning and courage of those Haredim to reach the general sector and actually feel part of the State of Israel
בואו נניח לרגע את שאלת הגיוס של החרדים בצד – קחו חצי דקה והביטו בסרטון, תראו מהפכה שמגיעה ללא פוליטקאים, עיתונאים, רבנים או שרלטנים. בלי שנאה ובלי מחסומים.
אהרון גרוס, חרדי מבטן ומלידה, כבר למעלה מעשור יוצא מידי שבוע לפנק את לוחמי צה”ל בכל מקום. הוא מגיע עם צוות של חרדים שפותחים מנגלים ומפנקים את אלו ששומרים עלינו מכל הלב ובנדיבות, וללא כל תמורה או עזרה חיצונית. לא ראיתם אותם מרוחים על העיתונים, כי הם לא מחפשים כבוד, אלא מרגישים תחושת שליחות של קירוב לבבות והכרת הטוב לחיילים.
זה השינוי המיוחל. האימרה שחרדים שאתם רגילים לראות דרך מסכי הטלוויזיה יוצאים בהפגנות נגד גיוס, לא מייצגים את כלל הציבור. לאט לאט ובשקט אנחנו רואים יותר מתגייסים ואולי החלק החשוב כאן – הכרה בצבא ההגנה לישראל. נכון, לאוכלוסיה הכללית זה היגיון מאד פשוט, אבל רק מי שגדל מאחורי החומות, יכול להבין את המשמעות והאומץ של אותם חרדים להגיע למגזר הכללי ובעצם להרגיש שייכות וחלק במדינת ישראל.
Kol hakavod to Aharon Gross and his wonderful group of haredi friends who show us the beautiful side of Judaism and of Israel, and also prove to us that we shouldn’t believe everything we read in the press.
Wishing my family, friends and all of Am Yisrael Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach!