Shavuot: The Festival Honoring Receiving the Torah
Written by Cantor Jeri Robins
Shavuot is one of my favorite holidays. It is the third of our three festival holidays, so-called because, in Temple times, Jews from all over would travel to Jerusalem to make sacrifices. In fact, in Hebrew, Shavuot, along with Sukkot and Pesach (Passover), are called the Shalosh Regalim ([literally] the three legs or feet), because for each of these three holidays people went walking on a pilgrimage. Just as Passover is associated with freedom and redemption from slavery, Shavuot is associated with receiving the Torah or revelation. To mark the occasion, the Ten Commandments are read on Shavuot. Each of the festivals is also marked by a special reading: on Sukkot, we read from the Book of Ecclesiastes (“for everything there is a season” – as we enter fall and winter); on Pesach, we read from the Song of Songs (love poetry); and, on Shavuot, we read the Book of Ruth.
Ruth is a Moabite woman who is the widow of one of Naomi’s sons. Naomi decides to return to her home and encourages Ruth to return to her family. In a very famous scene, Ruth responds to Naomi, “Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.” (Ruth 1:16). This quote is considered a statement of conversion for Ruth. Later in the story, she marries Boaz and, in their lineage, is King David.
Today, Shavuot is traditionally celebrated not only with services, but also with study. Some communities hold all-night learning sessions! The other way many observe Shavuot is to eat dairy foods – blintzes and cheesecake are especially popular. Shavuot begins on Saturday night (May 19th) and goes through Monday. Yizkor, a memorial service for those who have lost a direct relative (parent, sibling or child) is recited on Yom Kippur and the three festivals. It is customary to light a yarzheit candle in observance.
Be in touch if you have any questions about Shavuot at firstname.lastname@example.org! Chag Sameach!