All you need to know about Shavuot, the festival of weeks!

Get to know the beautiful festival of Shavuot, in which we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai! It is a festival of prayer, Jewish study, spiritual connection, and delicious cheesecake!

The festival of Shavuot marks the culmination of the days of the Omer, a 49-day count that began on the second night of Passover. A journey that began with the Exodus from Egypt and ended in the wilderness at the foot of Mount Sinai, where God gave the Torah and bestowed it upon the Jewish people. It is a truly beautiful festival in which we honor the sacred Torah in every way possible. Synagogues are decorated with flowers, and we dress in pure white clothing and enjoy rich, fatty foods to boost our enjoyment. Shavuot is one of the pilgrimage festivals in which people would take the long walk to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival. And so today, the rejoicing in Jerusalem continues as tens of thousands of people come to the Holy City to experience the holiness of the festival. Shavuot means "weeks" in Hebrew and refers to the seven-week count of the Omer from Passover to Shavuot.

From Exodus to Mount Sinai, Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jews!

The Shavuot festival can be traced back over 3,000 years ago to the monumental events at Mount Sinai. In the Hebrew year of 2448 (1313 BCE) the Jewish people arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai after wandering the desert following the Exodus. God told the leader of the people, Moses, that not only would he give them the Torah, but he would also make them his "chosen people" who would follow and observe his commandments.

And then it happened. The people awoke to awe-inspiring thunder, lightning, and the powerful blasts of Shofar horns. As they approached the mountain, they saw it was covered in fire with thick clouds at the top. Moses made his way to the top. Then, one by one, God transmitted the Ten Commandments to the people through Moses. Moses then remained atop Mount Sinai for 40 days, learning and studying the entire Torah to share with the people upon his return.

How do we celebrate the beautiful festival of Shavuot?

There are a number of customs and traditions that we observe to celebrate Shavuot.

As this festival celebrates the giving of the Torah, we put all our emphasis on honoring it. We decorate our Synagogue with fresh flowers and green foliage. On the first night of Shavuot, the men (who are commanded to - for women, it is optional!) stay up all night studying and learning the Torah, which acts as our preparation for the receiving of the Torah, just like our ancestors did at Sinai thousands of years ago. In the morning, the whole family goes to the Synagogue to listen to the Torah portion in which the Ten Commandments were given.

We also prepare for the festival, physically, by taking showers and getting haircuts. The men dip into the ritual Mikveh baths and purchase new clothes and gifts for the family. We eat festive meals, and some have a tradition of eating rich milky dishes, while there is also a custom to have meat and wine. As the saying in the Talmud goes, "There is no joy without wine, since 'wine gladdens the heart of humanity.'

Here are some facts about Shavuot that nobody knows!

1. The main biblical character associated with Shavuot is Ruth

On Shavuot, we read the Book of Ruth, a story that occurred during the Shavuot harvest. Ruth, a Moabite widow, decides to join the people of Israel and accompanies her Jewish mother-in-law back to the Promised Land. There, they find themselves in the field eating the leftovers of the barley harvest that are left for the poor and meet Boaz, who eventually redeems Ruth for marriage. Ruth would eventually become the ancestor of King David.

2. Passover connects directly to Shavuot

There is a significant agricultural and spiritual connection between Passover and Shavuot. In biblical times, Passover marked the beginning of the barley harvest and the counting of the Omer, which lasted 49 days (seven weeks) and led to the time to bring in the wheat harvest. Shavuot in Hebrew means "weeks", while the Omer means "leaf" or "sheaf". The spiritual connection is that we count up towards Shavuot, not down, and we use these days and weeks to strengthen our connection to Judaism and God in preparation for once again receiving the Torah!

3: Why milky foods on Shavuot?

Up until the receiving of the Torah, the laws of Kashrut, the dietary laws, and restrictions, including the separation of meat and milk and preparing meat that was Kosher for consumption, did not exist. So, the Israelites' alternative was to prepare a milky meal!
4: A festival for the whole family, including the children

One of the most integral parts of the Jewish family is bestowing the values and importance of the Torah and its commandments onto our children. They are the future, and much of our lives are spent on educating them for this holy purpose. Just like the children were present at the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, so today, our children and the entire family also attend the Synagogue to hear the Ten Commandments.

5: There are FIVE names for the festival of Shavuot!

A number of events occurred on Shavuot, and the names of the festivals directly relate to them.
  • Shavuot = meaning 'weeks.'
  • Yom HaBikkurim = 'Day of First Fruits'
  • Chag HaKatzir = 'Harvest Festival'
  • Atzeret = 'Stopping,' which refers to the commandment of abstaining from work on Shavuot.
  • Zeman Matan Torahteinu = 'Time of the Giving of Our Torah'

Your answers to the most frequently asked questions about Shavuot.

How long does Shavout last?

In Israel, Shavuot is one day. In the diaspora, however, it lasts for two!

How is Shavuot observed and celebrated?

The women of the family bring in the festival by lighting candles, the men stay up all night learning and studying the Torah, and the family attends the Synagogue to hear the Ten Commandments. On each day and evening a festive meal is served.
Why is the book of Ruth read?

To commemorate her journey, in which she chose to follow the path of Judaism and join the Jewish people in their dedication to God, the story of Ruth occurs during the Barley harvest of Shavuot.

Why do the men have to stay up all night learning?

This is to make up for our ancestors' mistake of oversleeping on the morning they were supposed to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai.

The festival of Shavuot is one where the Jewish people reignited the spark of the light that was lit thousands of years ago when God gave the Torah to our ancestors at Mount Sinai, who committed to observing it not just in words but deeds. It was the most momentous event in the history of the Jewish people, and today, in the Holy Land, these commandments and traditions are just as passionately observed as they were back then. Shavuot is the peak of our journey, one which began during Passover when we started the count of the Omer.

Counting upwards, day by day, and looking at how we could improve and ready ourselves for this reuniting with God. By improving our character traits, increasing our Bible and Torah study, and carrying out good deeds, whether by helping people or through charitable donations to those in need. And then, on Shavuot itself, we dress in our most pristine clothes and come to the Synagogue, ready to accept the Torah once again!

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