The Names of Shavuot

Shavuot, The Feast of Weeks, Exodus 34:22
Chag Matan Torah, Exodus 20:1-5
Chag ha-Katzir, Festival of Reaping (the first harvest), Exodus 23:16
Chag HaBikkurim, Festival of the First Fruits, Numbers 28:26

Congregation Emeth will observe the Festival of Shavuot this Shabbat morning, May 23. The Festival actually begins at sundown and continues until sundown May 24 on the Israeli and Reform calendar.
This festival is a harvest festival as well as a celebration of receiving the Torah, specifically the Ten Commandments. Unique to this holiday is that there are no specific mitzvot (commandments) associated with it, other than the Temple sacrifices which of course ceased with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. But there are customs:

  • We decorate our temple and homes with bright greens and flowers, recognizing the springtime harvest aspects of the festival.
  • We abstain from eating meat, and many people traditionally eat blintzes and other dairy products. Among the reasons for this tradition is the comparison made by King Solomon, writing in Song of Songs, “Like honey and milk, it (Torah) lies under your tongue.”
  • We study Jewish texts. Many participate in an all night study program. The origins for this practice seem to be a midrash found in the Talmud, stating that the Israelites overslept in the morning they were to receive Torah, and Moses had to awaken them because God was waiting to give them the Ten Commandments. So we stay awake, studying, to be ready to receive Torah early in the morning.
  • We read the Book of Ruth, which takes place during the harvest time. Ruth converted to Judaism, and Shavuot is a remembrance of all Jews entering the covenant.

For the Mitzvah of the Week, observe Shavuot in one, some, or all of these ways: Attend services this Shabbat morning (and have the double mitzvah of celebrating Jason’s bar mitzvah with the Valentine family), where you will hear the Ten Commandments read from the Torah; decorate your homes with lots of flowers and greenery; eat a dairy or vegetarian meal in recognition of the holiday, and study the Ten Commandments (…/the-ten-commandments/).

Chag Shavuot Sameach (Happy Shavuot)!