Tefillah Tips - The Great Holiday of Shavuot

Despite the fact that the Torah gives Shavuot top billing and it is considered one of the three Pilgrimage Festivals in which our ancestors would travel to Jerusalem yearly it does not receive the same modern day fanfare like Passover or the High Holidays. I wonder why not?

Why is this holiday different from the others?

Shavuot - which arrives this year May 22nd at sunset and is celebrated until May 24th at night - is unique in that it does not require any ritual mitzvoth. We do not blow Shofar, wave a Lulav, eat Matzah, light a Menorah or shake a Grager (although we do read a Megillah). Although in many homes cheesecake is a must on Shavuot it is not documented as a Mitzvah in our Shulchan Aruch – Code of Jewish Law.

Shavuot is filled with many beautiful Jewish customs. My hope is that by mentioning a few of them here in the article it will allow our readers to engage in the Holiday of Shavuot to it fullest.

1. As mentioned above – as opposed to Shabbat and other holidays Jews eat Milchiks-Dairy on Shavuot. A common reason advanced for this is that since the Jews just received the Torah and now were bound to the laws of Kashruth they ate cold dairy until they were adept at the new rules of Kashruth.

2. All around the world Jews stay up through the night and study Torah until Netz Hachamah i.e. sunrise –-when they pray at the earliest allowable moment of the day (this year 5:39am). This demonstrates our eagerness to receive the Torah on Shavuot day. We stay up all night in order that we do not miss out even a moment on this great day.

3. We decorate our synagogues with beautiful greenery because our sources state that Mt. Sinai itself was fertile and had a beautiful green appearance.

4. We read the enlightening Megillah of Ruth. It is one of the most touching and beautiful stories ever written and tells of the heroic kindness demonstrated by a previously Moabite woman to her Jewish mother in law (another noticeable miracle). G-d sees fit that this outstanding convert, Ruth becomes the great grandmother of King David and therefore of our eventual Messiah. Tradition teaches that King David was born and died on Shavuot. We commemorate his Yahrzeit by reading the Megillah on this day.

5. Since this is the holiday that commemorates our receiving of the Torah 3319 years ago we read the Decalogue- Ten Commandments with an incredible Aramaic introduction called Akdomot. Akdomot describes the everlasting love that G-d has for His children and forecasts our eventual redemption.

My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein shlitta states, “The Jewish People have an excellent collective memory. We remember that we left Egypt on a Thursday and we received the Torah fifty days later on the Sabbath.” The complexion of our synagogues, homes and lives reflect all that we have experienced as a nation in the last 3319 years since Sinai.

Unfortunately, due to over 2000 years in the exile, persecution and separation one from another, too many of our brothers and sisters exhibit cases of National Amnesia. We are the People of the Book – this means that through the ages as a nation we have lived by the book, understood the depth of the book and how it relates to our everyday lives.

There is a great saying – More then the Jews have kept the Torah, the Torah has kept the Jews. The Prophet Jeremiah states clearly that without the revelation of the Torah our world would not exist.

Shavuot is also called Zman Mattan Torataynu – The Time of the giving of the Torah. It is true that the 6th of Sivan each year commemorates the receiving of the Torah and allows us to reestablish our commitment to G-d, The Torah and the Jewish Nation. It has been said- We know that on Shavuot G-d will indeed be giving, but we need to be there to receive as well.

May our entire community together with the entire People of Israel enjoy a beautiful Shavuot filled with warmth, meaning and truth. May we experience all of the blessings of the Torah; see peace in our world and the glory of Jerusalem restored in our days.

Chag Sameach, Rabbi Ephraim Epstein