A Bissel of This and That

Welcome to the first installment of “A Bissel (a little bit in Yiddish) of This and That”.

Future installments will hopefully include information about Jewish Holidays and Traditions, as well as lessons from the Torah. If there is something you would like to see written about, or if you have any questions or comments, please let me know. Today’s topic covers “Shavuot” a Jewish holiday that takes place May 28-30 this year.

Happy Shavuot!
Deborah Farrar
TBE Service Team Leader

The holiday of Shavuot is a two-day holiday, beginning at sundown of the 5th of Sivan and lasting until nightfall of the 7th of Sivan (May 28–30, 2020). In Israel it is a one-day holiday, ending at nightfall of the 6th of Sivan. The word Shavuot (or Shavuos in Yiddish) means “weeks.” It celebrates the completion of the seven-week (49 days) Omer counting period between Passover and Shavuot.

Shavuot combines two major religious observances. First is the grain harvest of the early summer, while the second is the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai seven weeks after the exodus from Egypt. The first determines the ritual for the holiday, which was one of the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot) of ancient Israel, when Israelite males were commanded to appear before G-d in Jerusalem, bringing offerings of the first fruits of their harvest. The second determines the significance of the holiday for Judaism, tying it in with the seminal event of Jewish religious memory, namely the entering into a covenant between Gd and Israel, exemplified by Israel’s assumption of Divine Law.

The Torah was given by G-d to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai on Shavuot more than 3,300 years ago. Every year on the holiday of Shavuot we renew our acceptance of G-d’s gift, and G-d “re-gives” the Torah. The giving of the Torah was a far-reaching spiritual event—one that touched the essence of the Jewish soul for all times. Our sages have compared it to a wedding between G-d and the Jewish people. Shavuot also means “oaths,” for on this day G-d swore eternal devotion to us, and we in turn pledged everlasting loyalty to Him.

In ancient times, two wheat loaves would be offered in the Holy Temple on Shavuot. It was also at this time that people would begin to bring bikkurim, their first and choicest fruits, to thank G-d for Israel’s bounty. These fruits included only the fruits of the seven species of the land of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.

In current times, Shavuot is celebrated with candle-lighting on the first and second evenings of the holiday. Special foods, specifically dairy foods, are eaten on Shavuot, and no work may be performed. On the first night of Shavuot, it is customary for people to stay up all night studying the Torah and listening to the reading of the Ten Commandments.

It has also become a tradition to read the Book of Ruth on the second day of Shavuot. The heroine, Ruth, a Moabite woman, is married to an Israelite man who dies suddenly. Rather than return to her Moabite family, she follows her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Bethlehem. Her declaration of fidelity to Naomi and the Jewish people is beautiful and moving: “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus and more may the L-RD do to me if anything but death parts me from you.” In Bethlehem, Ruth is as good as her incredible words; she faithfully cares for Naomi, even in hard times. Ruth goes on to remarry (to another Israelite man) and ultimately becomes the matriarch of one of the great kings of Israel, King David.

The book of Ruth is read on Shavuot for several reasons. First, Ruth’s pledged fidelity to Naomi and the Israelite G-d mirrors the fidelity Israel expresses to G-d upon receiving the Torah. Second, Ruth’s story takes place during the season of the barley harvest, the agricultural occasion for Shavuot. Finally, Ruth is the great-great-grandmother of King David, who is thought to have been born and died on Shavuot.

Sources of information: and
My Jewish