Shavuot – Harvest of cereal and soul
There is still one more major holiday of the yearly cycle that awaits to be celebrated and that is the holiday of SHAVUOT – lonely Shavuot, that usually bypasses so many because, unlike its counterparts, Pesach and Succot, celebrated for an entire week and with distinct rituals attached to them, Shavuot is celebrated for only two days (in Israel, just one) and with just a few minhagim (customs) to help us mark the festival.
And yet, one could certainly claim that Shavuot just might be the most important of all the holidays, the climax of anticipation after Passover (marked by the counting of the Omer), the holiday that commemorates the most significant turning point in Jewish history – matan Torateinu – the giving of our Torah at Mount Sinai.
There are a few customs attached to Shavuot, which means weeks in Hebrew, underlying the significance of the seven weeks that separate the holiday of our liberation by leaving Egypt from the holiday of our spiritual freedom at Mount Sinai.
Shavuot, contrary to its often neglected place among our people, could be claimed as actually the most important holiday of all, for it commemorates and celebrates the very purpose of our existence – the Torah, its teaching and perpetuation through the generations, which is the miracle of the Jewish people.
We remember that Shavuot was originally only an agricultural festival, as the Torah tells us, marking the beginning of the harvest season. We also know that it became the practice to read the Book of Ruth for two reasons:
1. the story of Ruth takes place during the beginning of the harvest season.
2. Ruth was the most famous “convert” to Judaism, a Moabite woman, who embraced the religion of her mother in- law, Naomi, promised to never leave her or her new nation, and became a full-fledged Israelite. Ruth’s great-grandson was David, the greatest king in Israel’s history.
Thus we are reminded that Shavuot is also about each of us, born Jews and naturalised Jews, embracing the heritage and tradition of our ancestors. Let us remain true to that vision.
Rabbi Stuart Altshuler