Dear B’nai Shalom members, families, and friends:
As you read this shul bulletin, we will be approaching a very exciting time on the Jewish calendar, a joyous holiday for which we prepare with great anticipation, without much of the demanding and time intensive arrangements required for many of our celebrated holidays. This is the festive and often overlooked or misunderstood holiday of Shavuot.
As part of our understanding of the categorization of this holiday, we find that Shavuot fits in with its partner holidays of Pesach and Sukkot, finding its appropriate place between them. For those who are familiar with the Jewish calendar and who have a working knowledge of the cycle of the Jewish holidays, you will recall that Shavuot is part of the three aforementioned holidays, known as the Shelosh R’galim,” or the three “Pilgrimage holidays.” It was on these days back in Temple times, when Jews came on foot from all over the country to celebrate these festivals in Jerusalem, bringing with them their appropriate holiday offers to the Holy Temple.
The word “Shavuot” means “weeks,” and it refers to the seven weeks from Passover UNTIL Shavuot, (during which time we count the Omer), thus CULMINATING in the holiday celebration.
We find that the seven week period is meant to be an appropriate preparation time for us to learn from the example of the Jews in the desert upon leaving Egypt, as THEY prepared themselves to receive the Torah. Just as they worked to make themselves worthy, we are directed to do the same. WE must be worthy of having received Hashem’s Torah and of celebrating Hashem’s giving us the Torah. It is during this seven week period that we work hard to elevate our spiritual selves.
Among the different customs we observe or celebrate on Shavuot are the following:
The first is known as “Tikkun Leil Shavuot,” or more casually the “Mishmar,” the tradition of staying up all night and learning Torah. In doing so, we are demonstrating that the very best way to show our appreciation for having the privilege of receiving Hashem’s Torah, is foregoing sleep for that night and blanketing ourselves with the study of Torah.
Another well known custom of this holiday is the eating of milchigs (dairy products) as opposed to the much more widely observed custom of having a festive meat meal on our holidays and Shabbat. There are several reasons given for this custom. One such reason is a practical one. Once the Jews learned the previously-unknown complicated rules of keeping kosher and the methods by which to kasher their vessels, they recognized that their current vessels were NOT acceptably kosher. Thus they abstained from the eating of meat until they could properly kasher their pots, pans, and utensils, using their newfound knowledge of Torah commanded laws of kashrut. Shavuot is also known as “Chag HaBikkurim,” the holiday of the “first fruits.” This reflects the tradition of Jews bringing their first fruits to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as an offering there to Hashem. In commemoration of this aspect of the holiday, it is customary for many shuls to adorn the sanctuary and Aron Kodesh with flowers, shrubbery, and attractive vegetation.
On the first morning of the holiday, we hear the Torah reading of the Aseret HaDibrot, the “Ten Commandments.” This is very much thought of as a reenactment of our receiving the Tablets of the Covenant, there at Mount Sinai, with the entire Jewish nation present to accept G-d’s ultimate gift.
On the second morning of Shavuot, we hear the reading of Megillat Rut, the Book of Ruth, which is appropriate both timewise and according to its theme. The story of Ruth and Boaz takes place precisely at the time of the first fruits, the season of Shavuot. PLUS, the kindnesses shown throughout the story of Ruth and the other personalities depicted in the narrative, is a perfect example of the compassion and thoughtfulness with which we are taught to conduct our own lives.
As we prepare and anticipate the coming of this joyous holiday, may we all work hard to merit the privilege and blessing of receiving G-d’s kindness and righteousness through “Zman Matan Torateinu,” the “Time of the Giving of Our Torah.”
With Torah blessings,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin