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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Shavuos

By TorahLab

Table of Contents
Introduction
The Names of the Festival
Akdamus
Torah readings on the Holiday
The Book of Ruth
Additions in the Prayers
The menu of Shavuos
The giving of the Torah
The Torah

Introduction

In the year 2448 after the creation of the world, on the sixth day of the Jewish month Sivan, the nation of Israel was given a precious gift from G-d; The Torah. The Torah is the Jew’s guide to living. The sixth of Sivan marks the festival of Shavuos. This holiday provides Jews with a yearly opportunity to give G-d special thanks for the eternal gift of the Torah. The Torah was given in the month of Sivan, which is harvest time. Precisely at the time of an abundant harvest, when man may be inclined to pursue the path of greed, does he need the Torah, the guide to life, to give him direction. Throughout Jewish history, The Torah has been a constant reminder to the Jewish people that not by bread alone does man live, but by the word of G-d.

The names of the Festival

1) The Festival of Shavuos

Shavuos means weeks. This is the name given to the holiday in the Torah. It alludes to the end of the seven week period which begins with the second day of Passover. Centuries ago, Greek speaking Jews called the holiday Pentecost (in Greek, Pentecost means fiftieth), the day after the seven weeks which marks the date when the Torah was given.

2) Chag Hakatzir

The festival of reaping. This is a reference to the harvest of wheat, the latest grain in the fields, which takes place during this period.

3)Yom Habikkurim

The day of the First Fruits. This day marks the beginning of the period of bringing offerings from the first fruits of the crops with which the Land of Israel is blessed. Dates and figs are two of these fruits.

4)Atzeres

The closing festival of Passover. This name is used by our Sages in the Talmud to refer to this holiday. This name not only implies that Shavuos completes the harvest begun at Passover time, but suggests too, that the Torah, the symbol of human liberty, which was revealed on this day, completes the physical liberation celebrated during Passover. Spiritual achievement must complement deliverance from slavery, if enduring freedom is to be realized.

In our prayer books, Shavuos is described as “the season of the giving of our Torah”; for it was on this day that Moses received the Torah from G-d, on Mount Sinai. In the poetic words of the Zohar, the seven weeks of Israel’s (the bridegroom) courting the Torah (his bride) which commenced with the Passover liberation (betrothal), are now concluded with the giving of the Torah on Shavuos (the marriage).

Akdamus

Before the reading of the Torah on the first day of Shavuos, the reader chants an introductory poem of ninety lines, known by its opening word, Akdamus. Akdamus is an Aramaic poem written by R. Meir son of R. Yitzchak. The name Akdamus means introduction. Its purpose is to prepare the congregation for the story of the giving of the revelation at Mount Sinai, to be read from the Torah. The poem pays tribute to G-d for creating the world and selecting Israel as His chosen people. The poem contains a debate between Israel and the nations of the world, who try to persuade the Jews to give up their faith. The Jews however, remain strong and tenaciously cling to their trust in G-d and his eternal Torah. Israel relates to the nations of the world that their greatness is nothing, compared to the glory that G-d has in store for his people. The Jews look forward to a time when a great light will shine upon them and the exiled Jews will be gathered into a rebuilt Jerusalem. When the great and glorious third and eternal Temple will stand, G-d�s radiance will be so close us, that we will be able to point Him out, as the verse in Isaiah 25:9 states: �Behold, here is our G-d, we placed our trust in Him and He has redeemed us.�
An English translation of Akdamus reads in part:
Could we with ink the ocean fill
Were every blade of grass a quill
Were the world of parchment made
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of G-d above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor would the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Torah readings on the Holiday

The Torah readings on Shavuos relate to the message of the day. On the first day, we read about the first Shavuos that the Jewish nation experienced after leaving Egypt. The reading recounts the Giving of the Torah. The reading includes the preparations for the Revelation, which began when the Jewish people arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai, at the beginning of the month of Sivan. The physical preparations, such as setting boundaries for the people around the mountain, are recounted. We also read about the people�s spiritual preparation for receiving the Torah, by declaring their desire to carry out G-d�s will: �Everything that G-d has spoken, we will do.�
On the second day of Shavuos, we read about the three pilgrimage festivals. �Three times a year, all your males should appear before G-d, in the place that he will choose (the Temple Mount in Jerusalem): on the festival of Matzos (Passover), the festival of Shavuos, and the festival of Succos.�
The portion from the prophets read on first day of Shavuos, is taken from the opening chapter of Ezekiel. The reading presents the prophet�s vision of G-d�s glory. The second day�s post Torah reading, taken from the prophets, (called Haftorah reading), is taken from Habakkuk. Habakkuk responds to a shuddering prophecy that Jewish people are about to be exiled, with a prayer that G-d remember to have mercy on Israel, even while he expresses his anger towards them. Although Habakkuk knows through prophecy, that the Jewish people will face many difficult times, he is confidant that even though G-d has to punish his nation at times, ultimately, G-d will have mercy on his beloved nation, and give them the necessary strength to overcome any kind of adversity.

The Book of Ruth

Before the reading of the Torah on the second day of Shavuos, the book of Ruth is read. There are a number of connections between the subject of Ruth and Shavuos.

1) By reading Ruth on Shavuos, we are taught the following important lesson. The oral Torah and the written Torah are a single unit. One of them cannot function without the other. It was only through the Sages� knowledge of the oral Torah that they were able to know that while it is forbidden for a Jew to marry a male convert from Moab, a Jew may marry a female convert from Moab. Thus Boaz was allowed to marry Ruth. Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David.

2) King David was born on Shavuos and died on Shavuos. So on Shavuos, it is appropriate to read the book of Ruth, which records his genealogy. ��and Salman begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Oved, and Oved begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David.�

3) The story of Ruth took place during the harvest time, which is the time of
Shavuos.

4) The numerical value of the Hebrew name Ruth, is 606. Resh=200, vav=6, and tav=400. This reminds us of the 606 commandments that were given at Sinai, in addition to the seven Noachide laws, which apply to all people.

Additions in the Prayers

The priests (Kohanim) recite the priestly blessing during the additional (Musaf) prayer service. Yizkor (memorial) prayers are said on the second day of the festival.

The menu of Shavuos

It is a Jewish custom to eat dairy foods on Shavuos. Cheesecake is a very popular dessert on this holiday. The following are a few reasons for the custom of eating milk products.

1) Before the Torah was given to the Jewish people, they were permitted to eat non-kosher animals and meat that was not ritually slaughtered. The Torah forbids eating a number of animals and requires that the kosher animals be ritually slaughtered before eating. Therefore, once these laws became known, all of the people�s cooking utensils were non-kosher. For the period of time that the Jews engaged in the process of �koshering� their cooking utensils, they ate dairy foods. In commemoration of this, we eat dairy foods on Shavuos.

2) The Hebrew word for milk is �chalav�. The numerical value of the Hebrew letters that make up the word �chalav� is forty, which corresponds to the forty days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai, receiving the Torah from G-d.
After the dairy meal however, meat dishes are served, to recall the sacrifices that were offered in the Temple.

Some families eat triangular �kreploch�, symbolizing the three-fold Torah (The Five Books of Moses, Prophets, Writings), given to three-fold people (Priest, Levite, Israelite), through the third child (Moses, after Aaron and Miriam), after three days of preparation (�G-d said to Moses, �Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their clothing. Let them be prepared for the third day, for on the third day, Hashem shall descend in the sight of the entire people, on Mount Sinai��), on the third month of the year, Sivan.

The giving of the Torah

G-d gave the Torah in the presence of the entire nation of Israel - Six hundred thousand male adults aged 20 to 60, many older men, women, and children. Several million Jews witnessed the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Additionally, all the Jewish souls who were ever to live on Earth, were present at the Revelation.
�On the third day, when it was morning, there was thunder and lightening and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and the sound of the shofar was very powerful, and the entire people that was in the camp shuddered� All of Mount Sinai was smoking, because G-d had descended upon it in the fire� and the entire mountain shuddered exceedingly. The sound of the shofar grew continually, much stronger; Moses would speak and G-d would respond to him with a voice.�
The entire nation and all the Jewish souls heard The Master of the Universe proclaim: �I am G-d, your G-d, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.�

The Torah

The words of Torah are like water:
� As water surrounds the earth, so does the Torah encompass the whole world.
� As water is the life of the world, so is the Torah.
� As water (rain) comes from Heaven, so does the Torah.
� As water (rain) comes down amid thunder and lightening, so was the Torah given amid thunder and lightening. As water refreshes the soul, so does the Torah.
� As water cleanses man, so does the Torah.
� As the water comes down in drops, and turns into streams of torrents, so the Torah; You learn some today, a bit tomorrow, until it becomes a flowing river of knowledge to you.
� As water leaves high places and flows down to low places, so too, the Torah leaves those who are haughty, and stays among those who are of humble spirit.

Psalms, which was written by King David, expresses David�s deep feelings about the Torah.
� �Grant me understanding, so that I may cherish Your Torah, and keep it with my whole heart.�
� �I will safeguard your Torah constantly, forever and ever.�
� �The Torah of your mouth is better for me than thousands in gold and silver.�
� �Had your Torah not been my preoccupation, then I would have perished in my affliction.�
� �How I love your torah! All day long it is my conversation!�
In the last chapter of The Ethics of Our Fathers, the greatness of Torah is related.
� Rabbi Meir says that one who engages in the study of Torah study for its own sake, merits many things, furthermore, the creation of the entire world is worthwhile for his sake alone. He is called, �Friend, Beloved.� He loves the Omnipresent and he gladdens His creatures. The Torah clothes him in humility and fear of G-d � He becomes modest, patient, and forgiving of insult to himself. The Torah makes him great and exalts him above all things.
� Rabbi Yose son of Kisma was once walking on a road and was approached by a man. The fellow asked the Rabbi where he is from. The Rabbi replied that he if from a great city of Torah scholars and sages. The man offered to give the Rabbi thousands upon thousands of gold dinars, precious stones and pearls, if the Rabbi would agree to leave his city and settle in the man�s city. The Rabbi replied to the man that even if he were to give him all the silver and gold, precious stones and pearls in the world, he would dwell nowhere but in a place of Torah.

The Ethics of Our Fathers tells us to study Torah, and continue studying Torah, because everything is in it. The Torah is a Jew�s guide to all aspects of life. The Torah is the blueprint of the universe, and contains all knowledge. It is well known in Israel, that Rabbi Avraham Yishaya Karelitz, of blessed memory, used to draw complicated medical diagrams for surgeons. Doctors used to consult Rabbi Karelitz, better known as the �Chazon Ish�, for medical advice.

From the time of the Giving of the Torah, until present, the study of Torah has been the focal point of a Jew�s life. Although G-d has guaranteed us a nation, that Torah study will never cease: �This is my covenant with them��.My words that have been placed in your mouth, shall not be withdrawn from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring��.from this moment and forever.�, every individual Jew is given the free will to study Torah, or neglect its study. If one needs encouragement to study, one might take a trip to a Yeshiva and meet some people who spend most of their day engaged in the study of Torah. Just seeing the excitement in the air of the house of study, the smiles on the faces of the students and teachers, the twinkling eyes and glowing face of the Rosh Yeshiva (head of the Yeshiva), might arouse your curiosity. What are these people so excited about?! What are they studying so passionately? Just look at all those books that were written by Torah Scholars throughout the ages, which clearly devoted countless hours of their lives to in depth Torah study!

Today, Torah is very accessible. There are opportunities for Torah study for men, women, and children, of all ages and all levels. There is Torah on the Internet. There are Torah lectures given all over. There are many Torah tapes available. If one goes to a Jewish bookstore, he will find countless Torah books on a wide range of topics. In America, Israel and all around the world, there are Yeshiva programs and seminaries. Study options range from a single lecture, to yearlong programs. There is something out there for everyone! This Shavuos would be a great time to start learning Torah! This Shavuos, you too could join in saying the blessings �Blessed are You G-d, our G-d, who selected us from all the peoples��Who gave us the Torah of truth, and implanted eternal life within us. Blessed are You G-d, Giver of the Torah.�

Sources

1)The Book of Our Heritage. Eliyahu Kitov. Translated from Hebrew by Nachman Bulman. Feldheim Publishers. 1997.

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