WHAT IS SHAVUOT?
Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) commemorates the revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai to the Jewish people, and occurs on the 50th day after the 49 days of counting the Omer. Shavuot is one of the three biblically based pilgrimage holidays known as the Shalosh Regalim. It is associated with the grain harvest in the Torah.
It took Moses and the Israelites seven weeks of trekking through the desert to reach Mount Sinai. Shavuot literally translates to “weeks” in Hebrew, emphasizing the conclusion of this seven week journey. The timing of the holiday suggests that Shavuot may have been an ancient agricultural festival that took on special significance when the events at Mount Sinai occurred. Because of this, Jews will often “bring the outdoors indoors” by decorating the house and synagogue with flowers and greenery. Many Jews also celebrate the holiday by staying up all night on Erev Shavuot to study and symbolically prepare for receiving the wisdom of the Torah. This event is called Tikkun Leyl Shavuot (the Shavuot night watch).
During Shavuot the Book of Ruth is read, a story with significance for Jews-by-choice. A famine forces Elimelech and his wife Naomi to flee from their Israelite home to the foreign country of Moab. Soon Elimelech dies, and Naomi is widowed in Moab. She continues living there with her two sons, who eventually marry two Moabite girls– Orpah and Ruth. Tragically, both sons also die, leaving Naomi to live with her two widowed daughters-in-law in a strange land.
Naomi decides to leave Moab and journey to Bethlehem to live amongst the Israelites again. She encourages both Orpah and Ruth to return to their parents and remarry in Moab. Orpah reluctantly agrees, but Ruth refuses– out of love, she chooses instead to stay with her mother-in-law and embrace Judaism. This could not have been an easy choice, for Ruth had to leave behind everything she knew in order to stay with Naomi. Her kindness and obedience to God are eventually rewarded in Bethlehem, where she marries a wealthy farm owner named Boaz. Together they have a son named Obed, who becomes the grandfather of King David.
Ruth made famous the phrase, “For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” The story of Ruth teaches us that unconditional love often requires sacrifice. Ruth makes a difficult choice, and her kindness is rewarded in the end. The message is that God blesses those who are good and merciful.
Foods to Eat on Shavuot:
Popular Shavuot foods include cheesecake, blintzes, and kugels. Some Sephardic Jews make a seven-layered bread called siete cielos (seven heavens), which is supposed to represent Mt. Sinai.
Visit Tory Avey for great Shavuot recipes: