Shalom everyone! The biblical holiday of Shavuot, also known as the “Festival of Weeks,” is celebrated each year on the 6th day of the Third Month (Sivan) of Hebrew calendar, 50 days after the 1st day of Chag HaMatzot (15 of Aviv). The holiday commemorates the anniversary of the giving of the Torah (“Matan Torah”) to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. This event is recorded in Exodus (“Shemot”) beginning in chapter 19. Shavuot also marks the end of the Counting of the Omer, and commemorates the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel. Shavuot is considered a yom tov, that is, B’nei Yisrael are forbidden to do normal work on this day.
Shavuot is the second of the three pilgrimage festivals (“Shalosh Regalim”) which YAH commanded the B’nei Yisrael to celebrate each year in Jerusalem, the others being Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot. The holiday commemorates the anniversary of the giving the Torah to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai, an event filled with supernatural wonders witnessed by more than two million people. The entire nation of Israel, which was gathered near the base of Mount Sinai, heard the voice of YAH as He gave the Ten Commandments. The people grew very afraid when they saw the wonders of lightning, thundering, fire, smoke and heard the loud sound of the ram’s horn (“shofar”) and the voice of YAH coming from the top of Mount Sinai. They were so afraid that they asked that Moses go meet with YAH and then convey to them whatever YAH commanded.
The word “Shavuot” is the plural of the word “shavua” which means “week.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, Shavuot is referred to as the “Festival of Weeks” (“Chag Ha-Shavuot”) in Exodus 34:23 and Deuteronomy 16:10, as the “Festival of Harvest” (“Chag Ha-Katsir”) in Exodus 23:16, and the Day of First-Fruits (“Yom Ha-Bikkurim”) in Numbers 28:26.
In ancient Israel, the season of the grain harvest lasted seven weeks, beginning with the barley harvest at Passover, and ending with the wheat harvest at Shavuot. When the Tabernacle and later the Holy Temple stood, a special peace offering of two leavened loaves of bread from the wheat harvest was made on Shavuot. In addition to this offering, the following offerings were also made on Shavuot:
- Burnt offering: Two bulls, one ram and seven male yearling lambs
- Sin offering: One male yearling goat kid
- Peace offering: Two male yearling lambs, offered with the two leavened loaves of Shavuot
Shavuot was also the first day on which the people could bring the first-fruits (“bikkurim”) to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The first-fruits were brought from the Seven Species of produce celebrated in Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. The bringing of the first-fruits to the Holy Temple as an offering expressed the people’s gratitude to YAH for this harvest. According to the Sages, the world is judged for fruit on Shavuot. For this reason, it is customary to pray to YAH for an abundant fruit harvest in the upcoming year.
Outside of being a day of rest, having a sacred assembly and the bringing of the first-fruits and sacrificial offerings commanded by YAH, there are no other specific commandments in the Torah of how Shavuot should be observed. There are, however, a number of post-Exilic traditions for Shavuot which have been developed within the Jewish community.