Shavuot is described as the time of receiving the Torah (Zman Matan Torateinu) because it commemorates the day on which the Jewish people were given the Torah on Mount Sinai. The feast is also referred to as the Feast of Harvest (Pol. Święto Żniw.) In ancient times, at Shavuot, Israelis organized pilgrimages to the Holy Temple with two loaves of bread. In this way, they gave thanks to God for ripening wheat. Celebration of this feast is one of the precepts in Leviticus (23: 15-21): "You are to count seven complete weeks starting from the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the presentation offering. You are to count 50 days until the day after the seventh Sabbath and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD (…) On that same day you are to make a proclamation and hold a sacred assembly. You are not to do any daily work. This is to be a permanent statute wherever you live throughout your generations.”

Over time, after the Jewish state declined, the feast was stripped of its agrarian character. Only the custom of decorating households and synagogues with flowers and green branches reminds of the feast’s agrarian background. On the other hand, the spiritual aspect of the holiday was reinforced. Sixteenth century Jewish mystics introduced the new rite of studying the Torah all night, which has become a popular custom practised by many.

At Shavuot, the Book of Ruth is read. Rabbi Boaz Pash points out that this rite has several roots. Firstly, Ruth was the grandmother of King David, who was born and died on the day of this feast. Secondly, the Book of Ruth describes the scenes of harvest. Thirdly, Ruth, a non-Israeli woman, converted to Judaism with all her heart. Her story reminds us of a situation when all Jews became converts to the Torah. Reading of the Book of Ruth makes us remember that every man can reach for the Torah, the revelation of God.
According to the tradition related to Shavuot, only dairy products can be eaten during this feast, which serves as a reminder to Jews that upon the reception of the Torah, they also became bound with a duty to stick to Kashrut rules. The Torah was given to Jews on Shabbat, when no animal could be slaughtered, which is why Jews were forced to eat only dairy products at that time. Others say that dairy is eaten because the Torah is as nourishing as milk. Furthermore, with milk little children are fed. At Shavuot one should eat milk products to enjoy the innocence of a child by reading the Torah.

 

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