Shavuot is one of our three pilgrimage holidays – one of the special days that our ancestors trekked to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. It is by far the least known of the major holy days. (Yes, it really is a BIG holiday.) It is mentioned in the torah 5 times usually referring to the first fruits of the wheat harvest.
The problem begins with the Torah: we do not find even one specific mitzvah whose explicit purpose is to commemorate the events of Matan Torah – the Giving of the Torah. Deuteronomy 4: 9-16 does require that we not forget the events that occurred at Mount Sinai but does not command us to perform any specific positive mitzvah in order that we do not forget that event!
Then there is the issue of the timing of Shavuot in our Western calendar. Shavuot occurs at the end of May/the beginning of June. It is graduation season, wedding season AND a week or two before is when Religious School usually ends. More people now know about T’u B’shvat – the New Year for the Trees than they do about Shavuot because we celebrate T’u B’shvat with the children.
So how do we mark this special day? In the liturgy, we add Yizkor, Hallel and read the book of Ruth. It is customary to decorate the sanctuary and one’s home with flowers and greens. Our festive meals are dairy/vegetarian to honor the highest form of kashrut in which we do not take a life. Since we were given the gift of Torah on Shavuot, it is only appropriate that we study Torah.
I look forward to sharing some of our wonderful Shavuot customs with you this year. Bring on the kugel, cheesecake and ice-cream!
May we go from strength to strength together!