The Festival of Shavuot
Shavuot is a major Jewish festival held on the 6th of Sivan, fifty days after the second day of Passover. The holiday is one of the Shalosh Regalim, the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals and has a double significance:
The day G-d gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai, and the all-important wheat harvest in the land of Israel.
The festival of Shavuot has more than one name and more than one reason to celebrate:
Chag Shavuot (Festival of Weeks)
The word Shavuot means ‘weeks’ in Hebrew.
We, too, celebrate Shavuot for seven complete weeks after Passover.
Chag Ha Bikkurim (Festival of the Firstfruits)
Bikkurim means the first fruits. Shavuot is the time in Israel of harvesting the first fruit crops of the season. In ancient times the Bikkurim were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem, especially the seven species with which the Land of Israel is blessed - wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
The Bikkurim were carried in beautifully decorated baskets. Families would gather together to walk to Jerusalem and they would sing, dance, and play music while they walked. When they arrived at the Temple, they gave their offerings to the priests who would bless them.
Chag Matan Torah (Festival of the Giving of the Torah)
The Torah was given by G-d to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai on Shavuot more than 3,300 years ago. Every year on the holiday of Shavuot we renew our acceptance of G d’s gift, and G-d “re-gives” the Torah.
Chag Hakatzir (Harvest Festival)
In ancient times, Shavuot was an agricultural holiday, celebrating the end of the grain harvest as Chag HaKatzir.
From the second day of Pesach until the festival of Shavuot, we count each day for seven weeks. In ancient times, an omer of barley was brought to the Temple each day. On the 50th day, when all the 49 days of the Omer period are finished, it will be the festival of Shavuot. This period of time between 2nd Day Pesach and Shavuot became known as Sefirat haOmer, the counting of the Omer.
HOW DO WE CELEBRATE SHAVUOT?
DECORATE WITH GRAIN AND FLOWERS
On Shavuot, we decorate homes and even our synagogues with grain, flowers, and fruits. This reminds us of the harvests (Katzir), and the first fruits (Bikkurim).
LEARNING TORAH ALL NIGHT
Some of us spend the eve of Shavuot staying up all night learning Torah. This custom is called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which means ‘making ourselves better people on the night of Shavuot’.
EATING DAIRY FOODS
On Shavuot, we eat dairy foods (foods made from milk). These can include cheesecake, cheese-filled pancakes (called blintzes) and quiches. Other people eat fruit, to celebrate the first fruit, in particular, the seven species of Eretz Israel (including figs, pomegranates, and dates).
My Shavuot experience
You probably all know by now that I’m Israeli, so today I would like to tell you a little bit about my story, and how I used to celebrate Shavuot back in Israel.
Israel, the land of milk and honey, celebrates Shavuot in one big dairy festival. The best equivalent I can think of is Halloween when everything comes in orange and smell like pumpkin spice. Shavuot comes in one color; white, and one thing to eat; dairy.
But for me, Shavuot was always more than that.
I was fortunate enough to be born to a Kibbutznik Mom. A kibbutz is a form of settlement, born as a collective community that was traditionally based on agriculture. Read more...