The day (which is celebrated across two days) is a celebration of the day the Jews were handed the Torah from G-d.
As is my custom on the blog, I'll give you the cheat sheet from my Jew School learnings and give you my ten favorite things about the holiday/significance. I will, as always, guarantee you find at least one of them interesting.
At LEAST one. Here we go . . .
- Shavuot means, indirectly, week of weeks (49 days (7 x7 (etc.))). Shavuot (the occasion) and the Hebrew word for seven both have sheva at their root. Jews have marked 49 days (a week of weeks) since Pesach (the night the Jews fled Egypt/slavery). It took that long for everything to settle down (sand and the parted sea, etc.) enough for the words (as tablets via Moses) to be passed down and for the Jews to be marked as the "chosen people" accordingly.
- It is customary, like all of you who waited with baited breath and your scarves on for the latest Harry Potter book, to pull an all-nighter on the first night of Shavuot and really study the Torah and immerse yourself in it. Imagine those who first received the words trying to wrap their heads around them. Tradition (cue the Fiddler on the Roof), I suppose. The goal being the rules/commandments are how to live a life but there is lots - LOTS - of room for interpretation there.
- As is always the tradition (see the Fiddler link and watch it . . . great musical movie making) there are great foods associated with the holiday and this is my first (that I can think of) DAIRY (I heart cheese.) holiday of the Jewish calendar. It is believed Shavuot is a dairy holiday because the word was handed down on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and no animals could be slaughtered so people ate cheesecakes and blintzes - or at least that is what folks do now. If you need me I'll be gnawing on a brick of cheese (How would that be different than any other day, you ask? It wouldn't.).
- Random cheese-is-like-Nostradamus-predicting-9/11-stuff here . . . chalav (which means dairy) has just three letters in the Hebrew alephbet (remember there are no vowels and ch is one character) that, if you combine their numeric values equal 40 . . . as in years of wandering through the desert.
- I believe this is the first Jewish holiday I've learned of where there are no "bad guys." Not that Jews are a put upon people (that is sarcasm) but this holiday is all about being the chosen people with no one around to question or poke or prod. Just Jews, hanging in the desert with the word of G-d.
- Shavuot has a lot of the same traditions and mandates as Shabbat (perhaps because the first one fell on a Sabbath) so fully observant Jews don't work, use electrical appliances, spend money, create or extinguish light, etc. (editor's note - this blog post was finalized and scheduled Tuesday at about 3:30 PM CT) but you CAN cook and bake (no Kitchen-Aid) and carry stuff in public.
- The mandate for recognizing Shavuot is pretty simple and Bobby McFerrin is totes on board . . . be happy. Not only do observers have to be happy but they have to make those around them happy. Overcook food, give to/feed the needy, buy a gift for your spouse and children, get fresh flowers for the home, etc. I can get behind this. I am deciding today and tomorrow are going to be my happiest days of 2013 and that is actually a bit of a coup/statement.
- If each holiday "belongs" to a book/story in the bible, Shavuot belongs to the Book of Ruth. No. NOT the Oprah Book Club selection by Jane Hamilton the ACTUAL Book of Ruth - Who is not only the greatest convert in the history of the faith but she is the great-great-Grandmother of King David (himself sorta' a big deal). Her story/book is full of the sorta' topics that might make it an Oprah selection, by the way. Check it out.
- Like with many once BIG holidays that have sorta' faded a bit in prestige, Shavuot is tied to a day of pilgrimage . . . specifically a counting/ending of the barley harvest and a planting/beginning of the wheat harvest. That is why you will see lots of wheat and fields of grain symbolism in Shavuot materials.
- THIS . . .