Shavuot

BJ TorahOn Shavuot, the Jewish people celebrate not only the gift of Torah, but also its ongoing revelation. What was received with awe and trembling at Mount Sinai as a fledgling nation, we now celebrate with gratitude and love as a people sustained over the course of millennia by this Tree of Life.

O righteous ones, as you have heard this hymn of praise,
So may you always be placed in that holy company.
And, merit to be seated in the foremost row,
If you heed God’s words that came forth in splendor.
Exalted is God, from beginning to end.
God desired and chose us
And presented us with the Torah.
-Akdamut

Shavout (meaning “weeks”), a two day festival observed on the 6th and 7th of Sivan, takes its name from the counting of the Omer that begins seven weeks prior, on the second night of Pesah. Though the Omer marks a period of semi-mourning, save the 33rd day—Lag B’Omer—the count also builds anticipation for the recreation of the biblical account of revelation in Exodus 19 and 20. As we rise for the Ten Commandments, read on the first day of the holiday, and imagine ourselves at the foot of a smoke filled Mount Sinai, we complete the drama that began on leil ha’seder—the journey of our ancestors from slavery to redemption, from a people oppressed by Pharaoh and his taskmasters to a people made free to pursue the sacred purpose of God’s Torah and Mitzvot.

One of the shalosh regalim (three pilgrimage festivals), when our ancestors in the land of Israel gathered to offer sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem, Shavuot marks the end of the grain harvest when farmers collected wheat from the fields. The Torah tells us that on Shavuot, a member of each Israelite household offered a basket with the first fruits, or bikkurim, of the seven species of the land of Israel at the altar of the Temple. As a reminder of the connection to our agricultural roots, we recite the book of Ruth, the story of a righteous convert who forged bonds of friendship and love among the fields of an Israelite landowner during the harvest season. In keeping with these traditions, children at BJ bring baskets of bikkurim, filled with flowers and fruit, to the bimah during services on the morning of the first day and the service is followed by a community picnic lunch.

As an introduction to the reading of the Ten Commandments, many synagogues also recite the Akdamut, an Aramaic piyut, or poem, written by Rabbi Meir bar Yitzhak of Worms, which praises the relationship between God, Torah and Israel. Eating dairy foods, such as cheesecake and blintzes, is also a longstanding tradition on Shavuot, an allusion to the Song of Songs 4:20, where the Torah is compared to “honey and milk, it lies under your tongue.”

At BJ, the evening service on the first night is followed by a Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a series of all-night study sessions, which ends at dawn with a sunrise service. The Tikkun, referred to in Midrash and revived by the Kabbalists, affirms our belief that the process of revelation only began at Sinai. It continues wherever and whenever Torah and Jewish text is studied and debated, as long it reveals new insights into the deepest places of our humanity and activates our link with the sacred and the divine. Energized by a night of grappling with the Torah’s demand to bring justice and acts of loving-kindness to the world, we face the dawn of a new day, ready once again to receive its sacred call.