Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Shavuot: An All-Night Torah Party (With Cheesecake)!

And you thought traffic was bad on the highway!
Driving home from lodge last night I passed by numerous people on their way to shul for the Torah marathon that filled the night. I can’t say that I was one of the sleep deprived Jews stumbling about this morning. However, it is a great evening that I would like to take part in at least once in my life. I don’t look forward to the lack of sleep but the experience is something that definitely overshadows that.

So why are Jews around the world staying up all night? That’s right boys and girls, it’s time for another Jewish holiday. This week we are celebrating Shavuot! This holiday is very important and has grown in greater significance in recent years thanks to the innovations made by Apple because it is on this day that we celebrate the creation of the tablet. Actually, two tablets. Three if you get your history from Mel Brooks movies.

Shavuot is a two day holiday in the diaspora (Jews living outside of Israel where it is only one day) when we commemorate the anniversary of the day G-d gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai. It is also the day that marks the conclusion of the counting of the Omer which, if you remember from our previous blog lesson, is a counting of weeks between Passover (the Exodus) and Shavuot (the giving of the Torah). Basically, it is a link between when we were freed from slavery under Pharaoh to when G-d gave us the handbook as to how we should conduct ourselves in our daily lives.

For a more detailed overview of the holiday, here is the summary which can be found on

The Torah was given by G‑d to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai more than 3300 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 word Shavuot means “weeks.” It marks the completion of the seven-week counting period between Passover and Shavuot.

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 Holy Temple. 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.

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. (In Israel it is a one-day holiday, ending at nightfall of the 6th of Sivan.)
·         Women and girls light holiday candles to usher in the holiday, on both the first and second evenings of the holidays.
·         It is customary to stay up all night learning Torah on the first night of Shavuot.
·         All men, women and children should go to the synagogue on the first day of Shavuot to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments.
·         As on other holidays, special meals are eaten, and no “work” may be performed.
·         It is customary to eat dairy foods on Shavuot. Among other reasons, this commemorates the fact that upon receiving the Torah, including the kosher laws, the Jewish people could not cook meat in their pots, which had yet to be rendered kosher.
·         On the second day of Shavuot, the Yizkor memorial service is recited.
·         Some communities read the Book of Ruth publicly, as King David—whose passing occurred on this day—was a descendant of Ruth the Moabite.

For those who are less observant it is a time to order pizza (or cheesecake following a lighter meal), light the candles, and read the Torah for the evening before we head off to bed to rest for another day at the office in the morning. It is a great holiday and one of tremendous importance to us all, Jew and non-Jew alike, and it is one that should serve as a common interest if you will that we share with other faiths. This is the day we celebrate the moment when G-d spoke to us all and showed His devotion and compassion for each and every one of us. This truly is a day to rejoice (not a word I use often).