Shavuot is one of the lesser known of the seven Biblical Festivals even though it is one of the “Shalosh Regalim” – Three Pilgrimage Festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkoth). It was at these Chaggim – special Holidays that the Israelites would travel up to Jerusalem to celebrate and bring their extra offerings to the Temple, the first fruits of the land in gratitude to the Creator for all His provision. According to our sages, it is Hazman Matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of the Torah, the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.
These three Festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkoth) represent a union, a love relationship between the Creator and his people, Israel. This love union begins with Pesach which depicts the engagement of Israel to the Creator. This is when, according to tradition, we read Shir haShirim, the Song of Songs, a story of pure love.
Shavuot is the wedding day; the Tablets of the Ten Commandments were given as the Ketubah for Israel. A ketubah is a marriage contract which describes what the groom is obligated to provide for his bride with both financial and with conjugal responsibility. The entire community of Israel acknowledged on that day that “they would do, and they would (listen) – obey”. This is a covenant agreement where both parties, the Bore Olam and Israel both agreed to keep their promises to each other. Are we, the people of Israel and the Jewish people scattered around the world today, keeping our word?
On Shavuot, as tradition, we read the book of Ruth which speaks of the engagement of Ruth to Boaz. Here, Boaz rescued his bride and took her under his protective wing. She was not a native Israelite, in fact she was a Moabite, a sworn enemy of Israel. Boaz represents Israel and Ruth has the function of including the Gentiles into his family. Ruth chose to leave her people, like Abram and become part of Israel. She was blessed by being the great, great-grandmother of King David. We heard the beautiful words Ruth expressed: “your people shall be my people, your God, my God” which speaks of the universality of this message.
We end with the development of the Marriage at Sukkoth or the Feast of Booths. Sukkoth is the last of the three festivals; it is also a time of great rejoicing and is the only festival according to Zechariah that will remain after the final battle. It specifically states that all nations will celebrate Sukkoth. The marriage between God and His people would now include all nations.
Exodus chapter 19 vs 3 says: And Moses went up to God and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the people of Israel”. To whom was Moses to speak - to the house of Jacob or to the people of Israel? What is the difference? Are these two ways of saying one thing? Of course, our sages have many opinions about it but again, if we examine the universality of the message, it was for the blood descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and would now include all those added to our people, Israel. We see that depicted clearly with Joshua, son of Nun from the tribe of Ephraim and Caleb, son of Yefunneh, a Kenezite who became a prince of the tribe of Judah. These were the only two men of that first generation who left Egypt to enter the Promised Land… A Jew and A Gentile. Their hearts burned for the Holy Land. Does ours? When we think of Israel today, does it matter to us what is happening in the land. Do we weep when they weep, do we rejoice when they rejoice? Shavuot is such an important festival yet so few people, even within Judaism, celebrate it. It is so difficult for us in the diaspora to truly understand that the festivals are so connected to the land and we long to return one day.
How can Shavuot be explained outside the confines of religion and within the theme of our Rabbi’s, (Ranebi) Paradigm Shift in our belief systems? Shavuot is the culmination of Pesach after which we begin to count to the 50th day when we are to hold a great celebration. Imagine being in Israel in the future when the entire country will be unified and all celebrating together. In our community here, it is a true Simchat Torah, rejoicing of the giving of the Torah by the Hand of God to Moses at Mount Sinai, even if it is only a rabbinic idea. Imagine that day over three thousand years ago “…there was thunder and lightning and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the sound of a shofar blasting exceedingly loud; and all the people who were in the camp trembled.” (Exodus 19:16)
The Creator of the universe descended to this plane to give mankind His principles by which all humanity could truly live together in peace and harmony. This was a unique happening in all human history…the greatest kumzitz of all time. At no other time was there ever any appearance by God to an entire people who stood trembling at the sound of His voice. These commandments were not given exclusively for the Jewish people, rather we were formed as nation to be emissaries to bring these principles to the rest of the world. This is what we are celebrating at Shavuot. Yes, it is a time of great thanksgiving for the harvest, for the blessings that God pours out upon the world…” He rains on the just and the unjust.”
Sadly, this country, like so many around the world, has removed any mention of the Ten Commandments from our schools, from our public meeting places, from our government offices, from our institutions, and from our court rooms. The result is chaos, crime is on the rise, corruption, disease, and death are widespread. It is time to bring back the Ten Commandments into our societies for the benefit of all peoples. Let us learn from Shavuot that by giving us His Torah, the Creator set down the foundation for our lives and by being obedient to His principles, we are set on the road to freedom, to justice and to honor and to live healthy and fulfilled lives. God wants us to know that each day is a new day in which we can choose to return to Him (that’s what teshuva is) and to begin our lives anew, no matter how young or old we are. As Ranebi always said, “Our God is the God of beginning again.”
Chag Shavuot Sameach