A HOLIDAY WITH MANY NAMES
The Yom Tov (holiday) of Shavuot is when we stay up all night learning, decorate our synagogues and homes with flowers and greenery, and eat lots of cheesecake, blintzes and other dairy foods. The Yom Tov begins at sundown of the 5th day of Sivan, exactly fifty days after Pesach / Passover.
This year (5774-2014), Shavuot, also called Zman Matan Torateinu, (the "Time of the Giving of Our Torah") starts at sundown, June 3rd and lasts for two days, Monday, June 4th and June 5th , the 6th and 7th of Sivan.
Shavuot also celebrates the time when the first fruits of the Seven Species with which Eretz Yisroel is blessed, were harvested and brought in elaborately decorated baskets to the Bait Hamikdash, and is also known as Chag Ha-Bikkurim (the Festival of the First Fruits). Shavuot is also the wheat harvest festival - Chag HaKatzir (the Feast of Harvest). The beginning of the wheat harvest throughout Eretz Yisroel was preceded by the offering of shtay halechem (two loaves) as a meal-offering in the Bait Hamikdash.
MELACHA (WORK) ON SHAVUOT
No work is permitted on Shavuot.
The "work" prohibited on Shavuot is the same as that prohibited on Shabbat, except that cooking, baking, transferring fire and carrying, all of which are forbidden on Shabbat, are permitted on Shavuot. When Shavuot falls on a Shabbat, all bets are off, and all Shabbat restrictions must be observed.
THE GIVING OF THE TORAH
Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah by Hashem to the entire Bnei Yisroel (Jewish people) on Har (Mount) Sinai over 3,300 years ago.
In the Torah, Shavuot is also called Feast of Weeks. In Hebrew, the word "Shavuot" means "weeks" and stands for the seven weeks during which the Bnei Yisroel prepared themselves for the giving of the Torah. During this time they rid themselves of the scars of bondage and became a holy nation ready to stand before Hashem.
The period from Pesach / Passover to Shavuot is a time of great anticipation. We count each of the days from the second day of Pesach to the day before Shavuot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, The counting reminds us of the important connection between Pesach and Shavuot: Pesach freed us physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavuot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality.
The giving of the Torah was far more than an historical event. It was a far-reaching spiritual event —one that touched the essence of the Jewish soul then and for all time. Our Sages have compared it to a wedding between Hashem and the Bnei Yisroel. We became His special nation and He became our G-d.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SHAVUOT TODAY
The Revelation at Har Sinai was a tumultuous awe-inspiring experience. The entire universe, our Sages say, trembled with the piercing sound of the ram's horn. Thunder and lightning filled the skies. Then -- silence. Not a bird chirped. No creature spoke. The seas did not stir. Even the angels ceased to fly, as the voice was heard: "I am the L-rd your G-d ..."
Each year, Shavuot is the special time for us to reawaken and strengthen our special relationship with Hashem. We can do so by rededicating ourselves to the observance and study of the Torah — our most precious heritage.
Every Jewish man, woman and child, including young infants, should make every effort to attend services at least on the first day of Shavuot, Sunday, May 27th, 2012, and hear the Torah reading of the Aseret Hadibrot, (the Ten Commandments).
Over Three thousand three hundred years ago, the Children of Israel stood at the foot of Har Sinai and received the Torah from Hashem. Together they proclaimed: "Na’ahseh V’Nishma, (We will do and we will listen)" (Shmot 24:7). Each year on the Yom Tov of Shavuot, this historic event is relived as we commit ourselves anew to observing the Torah.
When Hashem revealed Himself on Har Sinai, our entire people heard His voice proclaiming the Aseret Hadibrot.
commandment 1 I am the Lord, your God who took you out from the land of Egypt.
commandment 2 You shall have no other gods before me.
commandment 3 You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God in vain.
commandment 4 Remember the Shabbat day and keep it holy.
commandment 5 Honor your Father and your Mother.
commandment 6 You shall not murder.
commandment 7 You shall not commit adultery.
commandment 8 You shall not steal.
commandment 9 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
commandment 10 You shall not want what your neighbour has.
These are the Aseret Hadibrot—the 10 Commandments that are the basis of all the laws of the Torah! They range from the highest and most refined concept of the belief in the oneness of Hashem, to the most basic laws which every society has found it necessary to enforce,—not killing and not stealing.
ASERET HADIBROT (TEN COMMANDMENTS)
MINHAGIM (CUSTOMS) OF SHAVUOT
FLOWERS AND GREENS
A beautiful long-standing Shavuot tradition is the decoration of our homes and shuls (synagogues) with fragrant flowers, leaves, tree branches, and greens. Many reasons have been given for this custom.
Flowers: Our Sages taught that although Har Sinai was situated in a desert, in honor of the Torah the desert bloomed and sprouted flowers.
Greens: Our Sages taught that on Shavuot judgment is rendered regarding the trees of the field.
TIKUN LAIL SHAVUOT
A well established Minhag (custom) calls for all-night Torah study on the first night of Shavuot, because on the day the Bnei Yisroel were to receive the Torah, the nation overslept. As an atonement, the Zohar says that certain pious individuals would remain awake the entire night of Shavuot as a means to rectify this lapse.
Many people read the Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a formal guide of study for Shavuot, originally formulated by the Arizal, and subsequently enhanced by the Sh’lah Hakadosh. It contains passages from every Parsha in the Torah, each book of Tanach, the first and last Mishnah of every Tractate, a listing of the 613 Mitzvot, and some sections of the Zohar.
In some congregations, Rabbis lecture deep into the night, either to enable the entire congregation to study the same topic or perhaps to accommodate those who are not capable of studying by themselves, (or perhaps to put some congregants to sleep —only kidding).
It is customary to eat a dairy meal at least once on Shavuot. Others eat dairy products (but not hard cheese) before the main (meat) lunch meal.
There are several reasons given by our Sages for the custom of eating a dairy meal on Shavuot. One of them is, that on Shavuot, the Bnei Yisroel had just received the Torah (and the laws of Kashrut therein), and they did not have both meat and dairy dishes yet, and were unable to use their dishes that day (Shabbat) until they were rendered Kosher by the proper process of "kashering" utensils. Thus their meal was a dairy meal.
Another reason is that the Torah is compared to Milk.
The word for milk, Chalav, has the numerical value of 40, corresponding to the 40 days Moses spent on Har Sinai.
On the first day of Shavuot, after the Kohain has been called to the Torah, but before he recites his blessing, Akdamut is read responsively, the chazzan saying two verses, and the congregation saying the next two. It was composed as an introduction to the Aseret Hadibrot. Consisting of ninety verses, composed by Rabbi Meir ben Yitzchak, it is probably one of Judaism's best known and most beloved Piyut (liturgical poem). It is a description of Hashem's creation of the world and close look at the splendors of Olam Habah (the World to Come). It describes the Malachim's praise of Hashem and the greatness and the suffering of Bnei Yisroel.
MEGILLAT (THE SCROLL OF) RUTH
Megillat Ruth is read on the second day of Shavuot, before the reading of the Torah. Many reasons are given for this practice:
The entire Torah is loving kindness, and this Megillah consists of loving kindness, therefore it is read on the day of the giving of the Torah (Midrash Rabbah).
The act of Ruth’s conversion took place during the harvest season, ‘at the beginning of the barley harvest’ to the ‘end of the wheat harvest.’ This period includes the Yom Tov Shavuot.
Matan Torah marks the beginning of the Jewish Nation, when they entered into the Covenant with Hashem. Megillat Ruth tells how Ruth entered into that Covenant.
Megillat Ruth is the history of the roots of King David. The last verse, which continues the line of Boaz’ descendants, ends with David. Since Shavuot is the birthday and Yahrzeit (day of death) of King David, we read Ruth on Shavuot.
The central character is the heroine—Ruth, who, at least at the beginning of the story is not even Jewish. (Of course, she converted). Her son, born of her marraige to Boaz, was Oved, grandfather of King David, first of the royal family of Israel—the House of David. The Talmud calls Ruth Ima Shel Malchut, (mother of royalty), because her progeny included David and Solomon, and the future Moshiach who will end all exiles, return Israel to its greatest glory, and lead all the world to the destiny for which it was created.
For a more detailed account of The Story of Ruth click here.