Shavuot is the least well known of the three pilgrimage festivals. Sukkot has the booths and the lulav and Etrog; Passover has the Seder, the ban on Chametz and of course lots of matzah; both are a week long. Shavuot on the other hand has little ritual associated with it and is technically a one day celebration (in the diaspora, we celebrate it for two days).
Shavuot is the culmination of a quirky calendar anomaly in which we count seven complete weeks from Passover until Shavuot, Shavuot being the fiftieth day. In the Torah it was known as an agricultural holiday. It was the moment the Israelites would bring the first fruits of the spring harvest as a gift to God, the bikkurim.
At some point, when agriculture in the land of Israel ceased to be a relevant factor in the lives of Jews, and the Great Temple in Jerusalem no longer existed, the rabbis added a second meaning to the holiday that we tend to focus on today as the main reason for celebrating. The rabbis understood Shavuot to be the very moment of revelation at Mt. Sinai. It is referred to in our liturgy as Zman Matan Torahtenu, the season of the giving of the Torah.
On Shavuot we celebrate by spending the first evening of Shavuot engaged in Torah study. The Torah reading for the first day of Shavuot is the section of the Torah that tells the story of the revelation at Mt. Sinai, including the Ten Commandments. We also read from the Book of Ruth. On the second day of Shavuot we include the Yizkor prayers.
One tradition on Shavuot is to eat dairy meals rather than our regular chicken or brisket fair. Multiple reasons are given for this custom. One reason given for the custom is that when the Jewish people received the Torah they received final instructions on how to properly slaughter animals - they had not followed the laws up until that point so all of their meat and cooking utensils were not kosher. The only alternative was to eat dairy which did not require any preparation. Why didn't they just kasher new utensils and prepare kosher meat. - Revelation took place on Shabbat when slaughtering and cooking are not permitted. Another reason given for the custom is that the Torah itself is likened to milk as the verse says, "Like honey and milk (the Torah) lies under your tongue. Just as milk has the ability to sustain the body - nursing a baby etc. The Torah provides spiritual nourishment for the soul.
Next week we will celebrate Shavuot with a Tikkun Layl Shavuot on Tuesday May 30th. We will begin with a light dinner of Shakshuka and other Israeli style food starting at 6 pm. The program and discussion will begin at 7 PM. We will be focusing on the 50th Anniversary of the Reunification of Jerusalem.
It is not too late to RSVP. You can click here to take you to the reservation page. $10 per person and maximum of $40 per family.