Category: Appointed Times
Do you know what is so wonderful about celebrating the Moadim? We barely cease from recovering from one Festival, and suddenly it is time to prepare for the next. It seems as though our Pesach Seder was just a couple of weeks ago, even though nearly fifty days have elapsed.
With the help of God, we are all having a meaningful counting of the Omer this year and are now almost ready to experience the joy of the season of the "giving of the Torah."
Shavuot celebrations may not call for a magnificent sukkah or a supreme Seder meal, but this holiday has some memorable festivities of its own. To this authors knowledge, only three requirements are found in the Torah, with several more added throughout the generations.
The first is that we observe Shavuot as a holy day. It is a day on which we rest and have a special gathering to the LORD. Secondly, we are called to "…bring two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah" before the LORD. (In addition, several sacrifices are required in the text, of which we cannot fulfill without the Temple.) What then, is an ephah, and what are these instructions stating?
"An ephah is a measure of Egyptian origin and contained ten omers (an omer is about two quarts, so it would be approximately four quarts of flour.) Four quarts of four cups each is about sixteen cups of fine flour. This would make the loaves approximately 12" x 21" x 3"."1
Those are mighty large loaves of bread! These loaves are to be made in our homes, with leaven and are to be a wave offering to the LORD, (Leviticus 23:15-21). As we wave the loaves before the LORD, we are reminded that He is accepting the offerings that He has asked for. We can be sure in our hearts that although our lives still contain leaven (sin), He has called us to Him as first fruits and that He is pleased as we present ourselves as a living sacrifice before Him.
Thirdly, we read in the Torah that Shavuot is one of the pilgrimage Festivals. For centuries past and present, a trek to the Holy City is the activity for Shavuot. For those who are able to be in Yerushalayim for this Festival, your holiday will surely shine with grandeur.
Shavuot, the festival of Weeks, is also referred to in the Torah as Chag HaBikurim, the Festival of the First Fruits, from where we get the name, Bikurei-Tziyon. Israel's agriculture and all the practices associated with it, are imbued with spirituality. Torah legislates when to toil the land, when to refrain from working it, and how to use its produce in an ethical manner.
One of the spiritual experiences connected to farming was the offering of produce in the Temple. It was at this time of the year that Jews from all over the land of Israel trekked to Jerusalem on the festival of Shavuot to bring the first fruits of the new season, giving rise to the name Chag HaBikurim. Shavuot, with its wheat offering in the Temple also marked the end of a harvest cycle, which began when the barley crop was offered at Pesach. The harvest aspects of the festival is recalled today through customs such as decorating with flowers, fruits and greenery, and the reading of the Book of Ruth.
For those who dwell in other places worldwide and cannot travel, fear not, for there are still several additional (albeit extra-biblical) traditional observances surrounding Shavuot that invoke the participation of our senses during this Mo'ed. Perhaps the most popular is a tradition that has its origin in the Mishnah, wherein the rabbis have recorded that the desert bloomed and sprouted flowers when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai. In the Land of Israel, the children make wreaths of flowers to wear on their heads and around their necks; homes are also ornate with an abundance of fresh cut Israeli-grown flowers.
Another happening in the Land on the day of Shavuot is that of "water throwing," (it possibly has a technical name of which I am unaware). The young—primarily secular—Israeli teens fill bottles, cans, buckets and anything that they can find with water in order to drench unsuspecting victims. Our familys car was once overtaken by a group of these kids who opened our car doors and thoroughly soaked every passenger and the inside of the vehicle. Its a good thing that Israels weather is already very warm by mid-May!
Fun and games are wonderful ways to remember the holiday, but like all the Appointed Times, our intellect gets exercised as well. To satisfy our souls, we stay awake the entire night prior to Shavuot to read the entire book of Ruth, the Ten Commandments and other selected traditional, Jewish writings. At daybreak, from all directions steady streams of many inhabitants of Jerusalem, dressed mainly in white, walk on foot to the Kotel for sunrise prayers. Oh what a beloved sight this is—Gods people, uplifted by a night of the study of His Word, dressed in clothes to symbolize purity, rejoicing over His presence in their lives, and thanking Him wholeheartedly for the revelation Hes already given through the Torah.
The Torah is regarded as words from the LORD, sweeter than honey; and the land of Israel is known as that which flows with "milk and honey." Hence, in commemoration of the giving of the Torah and the Land, we eat primarily sweet dairy foods on Shavuot. Among the cheese dishes are soft cheese blintzes, cheesecake (recipes included at the end of this article), and a variety of soft cheeses such as sour cream and whipping cream sweetened with honey.
A popular song during Shavuot is Torah Tzevah Lanu—The Torah Came to Us. Moreover, it is a time when children participate in hands-on activities such as making their own personal Torah scroll and performing in plays re-enacting the event of the giving of the Torah.
Through the many traditions that your family may choose to adopt for Shavuot celebrations this year, it is important to emphasize that this Festival is our appointed time with Abba to present ourselves as an acceptable offering before Him. We will be blessed in our rejoicing as we gratefully praise our mighty King for giving us the Torah that instructs us in righteous ways, which are acceptable and pleasing to ADONAI.
Robin Scarlata and Linda Pierce, A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays with Activities for All Ages, Family Christian Press, Madison, TN, 1997.
Adapted from Bikurei Tziyon #64. Â© 2012 First Fruits of Zion. All rights reserved. We encourage you to share this material with your friends for further personal study. However, this material may not be republished, in print, electronically, or any other form without our prior permission.
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