Shavuot is fast approaching and will begin on the evening of Thursday, May 25.
Well, that depends on who even knows what this holiday is. My theory is that because this festival always occurs at the end of the school year kids don’t actually get to celebrate it in Hebrew school/Jewish learning programs to the full extent. AND, I think the anticipation of summer break makes everyone’s brains turn to mush and we (teachers) frankly can’t handle teaching even one more holiday so we sort of phone it in and just give out ice cream. However, Shavuot is great cause for celebration! So, let’s learn about it.
What Is This Holiday?
Biblically speaking, this late spring/early summer festival comes exactly seven weeks after Passover and marks the end of the grain harvest and beginning of a new agricultural season (which ends with Sukkot).However, Shavuot, which means “weeks,” is also the holiday that commemorates the receiving of Torah and revelation of The Divine at Mt Sinai (elsewhere in the Torah this same mountain is referred to as Mt. Horeb). As the story goes, Moses climbed Mt. Sinai/Horeb while the Israelites camped at the base of the mountain. While on top of the mountain for 40 days God gives the 10 commandments and the whole Torah to Moses to then give to the people. We honor our receiving of the Torah by studying all night and eating dairy meals and desserts. There are many reasons for this, but one is that Torah study is likened to “Honey and milk [are] under your tongue” and as such, we symbolically eat sweet dairy to celebrate the sustaining power of Torah.
There is so much more to learn about this holiday. For now, I hope you enjoyed that forspeis-sized explanation. Let’s dig into some reflection! Here are 7 questions to help you and your loved ones celebrate.
7 Questions For Shavuot
The Torah was given on a mountain! This is not a random thing. A lot of important things happen on mountains in Torah: Noah’s ark lands on a Mt. Ararat, Aaron dies on Mt. Hor, Moses dies on Mt. Nebo, etc.
Tell about a time you climbed a literal or metaphorical mountain. What could you see from the top?
As you just learned above, we eat dairy (especially sweet dairy) on Shavuot.
What is the most delicious sweet dairy thing you have ever eaten? Where and when did you eat it, and who were you with?
There is a Kabbalistically-originated tradition that on the evening of Shavuot, we are to stay up all night learning Torah. That’s a lot of learning.
What is something you hope to learn before next Shavuot?
Shavuot commemorates not just the Torah but the receiving of the Torah. Torah is seen as a gift – one that is perpetually given each time we hear its words.
What is the most incredible gift you have ever received?
There is an old tradition that on Shavuot we “decorate the synagogue and home with green plants, branches, and even trees.”We do this for various reasons, one of which is that “the area around the mountain of Sinai was green, according to the implication of ‘neither let the flocks and herds graze’ (Exod. 34:3).” And, “on another level, trees evoke the image of the Torah as the etz haayim – the tree of life.”
What kind of tree has the most meaning in your life?
The Book Of Ruth and Action
On Shavuot we read the Book of Ruth. There are many, many reasons why we do this, two of which are as follows: “Shavuot is connected to the barley harvest (also called bikkurim in the Bible); so, too, is the story of Ruth, and reading Ruth teaches us that actions, not mere study, are the essence of “righteous living” or “goodness.”To learn more of the reasons, check out this piece.
When was a time you truly acted out “goodness?”
What does Torah mean to you today?
And if you love question conversation starters, here are other lists to jump into:
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Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, The Jewish Holidays: A Guide And Commentary (William Morrow: New York, NY: 1985), 70.
Shir HaShirim 4:11
Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Dr. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Z”L, Why Do We Read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot? ReformJudaism.org https://reformjudaism.org/why-do-we-read-book-ruth-shavuot
Lovely! Shabbat Shalom