Shavuot

A post from 2003

Most Christians have a vague understanding of Passover; if pressed, they could probably recall the Exodus, the plagues, the lamb, the blood on the doorposts, and the unleavened bread. We can probably thank Cecil B. DeMille for that.

But how many would be able to describe the significance of Shavuot, which began at sundown last night?

Earlier this week I received a brochure in the mail from Chabad Outreach of Houston, “Your Shavuot Guide.” Shavuot (the feast of “Weeks”) comes fifty days after Passover (whence we get the Greek name for this feast, “Pentecost”), and celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

This brochure says,

…Shavuot has two faces: It is a celebration of the wheat harvest and the ripening of the first fruits. It is also the birthday of the Jewish nation.
On the day of Shavuot, we received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Before that, we were a family and a community. The experience of Sinai bonded us into a new entity: The Jewish people.

That is why Shavuot is a day to reconnect–to our people and to the wisdom of the Torah

The festival is celebrated with an “All-Night Learnathon,” staying up to study Torah and pray, until daybreak. The students at UCSB Hillel used to then take the Torah scroll down to the beach and dance with it in the surf (and still does). It’s a time, says the brochure, to decorate the home and synagogue with fruits, flowers and greenery. And because “Torah is mother’s milk to the Jewish soul,” the first meal on the first day of Shavuot is a milk meal, with soft cheeses (especially served in blintzes).

Here’s an interesting bit:

Who secured the deal with G-d at Sinai? The kids did. You see, G-d wanted a guarantor to ensure we would keep our side of the deal. At first, we offered our elders, then our prophets, then our rabbis–but He wasn’t impressed. Only when we offered our children as guarantors did He let us step up to the plate. After all, if the children will keep the Torah, the adults will, too.
Ever since then, the primary focus of Jewish life has been to educate our children, to ensure they will continue holding to our agreement. So when we read the Ten Commandments in the synagogue on Shavuot, we make every effort that our children–even the smallest ones–should be there, in the front row.

Want to know more? Check out Chabad’s Shavuot Guide.

Turning to the book of Acts, we find the apostles gathered with Mary in the upper room, studying and praying. As on Sinai, there is fire and a mighty wind. The Spirit binds them together as a new community, the Church, and sends them forth into the streets in the early morning praising God and proclaiming the Word of the Gospel.

Another post from 2004

I’m on the Chabad mailing list. Today I received in the mail, “Your Shavuot Guide,” but what caught my eye was the advertisement on the back for the Shavuot Ice Cream Party with reading of the Ten Commandments, Wednesday, May 26, “at a Chabad House near you.” “Super Games – Amazing Prizes – Lots of ice Cream.” Shavuot (or, from Greek, “Pentecost”) begins the evening of May 25 (we celebrate the Christian counterpart the following Sunday).

Ways Chabad says to celebrate:

Relive the original Sinai experience by hearing the Ten Commandments read in the synagogue. Make sure to bring the kids! Decorate your home and synagogue with flowers–reminiscent of the miraculous emergence of flowers on Mount Sinai.

Eat dairy foods–reminiscent, among other things, of the 40 days and nights Moses spent on Sinai (The Hebrew word for “milk” is numerically equivalent to 40).

Stay up the entire first night of Shavuot studying Torah in preparation for receiving it the next day.

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