Posted by: Elena's Israel Blog | 05/25/2012


Shavuot (also known as Pentecost), May 26-28 this year, is a Hebrew word meaning “weeks” and refers to the Jewish festival marking the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Shavuot, like so many other Jewish holidays began as an ancient agricultural festival, marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. Shavuot was distinguished in ancient times by bringing crop offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Shavuot, also known as the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, dates from biblical times, and helps to explain the holiday’s name, “Weeks.” The Torah tells us it took precisely forty-nine days for the Jews’ ancestors to travel from Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai (the same number of days as the Counting of the Omer ) where they were to receive the Torah. Thus, Leviticus 23:21 commands: “And you shall proclaim that day (the fiftieth day) to be a holy convocation!” The name Shavuot, “Weeks,” then symbolizes the completion of a seven-week journey.

Shavuot is a happy holiday, filled with lots of good food such as cheesecake, blintzes, and other tasty treats. Special customs on Shavuot are the reading of the Book of Ruth, which reminds Jews that they too can find a continual source of blessing in their tradition. Another tradition includes staying up all night to study Torah and Mishnah, a custom called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which symbolizes Jewish commitment to the Torah, and that they are always ready and awake to receive the Torah. Traditionally, dairy dishes are served on this holiday to symbolize the sweetness of the Torah, as well as the “land of milk and honey”.

The Book of Ruth in the Bible chapter Ruth 1:1-22, tells the story of a woman who is dedicated to her mother in law after her husband dies. Ruth returns with Naomi, her mother in law, to Bethlehem, where she gleans barley and wheat for the entirety of the season. The owner of this field, Boaz, allows this for he has heard of her loyalty and because Boaz is a relative of Naomi’s it is right that he marry Ruth to carry on the family line. When Boaz and Ruth marry they have a son named Obed, who is the grandfather of King David. Because Ruth’s loyalty and hard work are expressed during the harvest season and because she desires to follow Naomi and become a Jew, there is much symbolic resonance to this short Biblical book. God honored Ruth in that she became a direct ancestor of Jesus Christ. She was a gentile with the heart of a Jew!

The period from Passover to Shavuot is a time of great anticipation for Jews. Shavuot is also sometimes known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day. The counting reminds Jews of the important connection between Passover and Shavuot: Passover freed them physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavuot redeemed them spiritually from bondage to idolatry and immorality.

It is noteworthy that the holiday is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. The sages point out that we are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, that we receive it every day, but it was first given at this time. Thus it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday significant.

As a Christian I see a direct parallel between the giving of the Torah and the giving of the Holy Spirit which happened on Shavuot (Pentecost) just after Jesus’ resurrection.  

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tonguesas the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (Acts 2:1-12)

Click  CalendarJewishFeast  to see a calendar of all the Jewish Holidays.


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