Shavuot 2013 , 5773
Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, Celebrates the Revelation at Sinai
The word "Shavuot" (Ashkenazi pronunciation"Shavuos") literally means "weeks". The holiday falls on the sixth of the month of Sivan, 50 days after the second night of Passover. Shavuot 2013 falls on Wednesday 15 May, 2013 (and Thursday 16 May, 2013 outside of Israel). There are at least five names commonly given to this holiday: Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, Feast of the first fruits, the harvest festival, "Atzeret" (the "ending", Passover being the beginning), and the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, are all biblical names for the holiday.
The end of the Omer
We mentioned the Omer (Wave) offering on the discussion of Lag Baomer as the period of counting from the second night of Pesach for 50 days. The Omer is mandated biblically in Leviticus 23:9-14. This counting culminates in the holiday of Shavuot. During this time, the Children of Israel traveled in the desert, arriving at Mount Sinai. Shavuot celebrates the revelation at Mt. Sinai, the giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel.
Shavuot is mandated biblically in Leviticus 23:15-21. The laws and customs of Shavuot prayers are discussed in the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 494. Various aspects of the holiday are discussed throughout the Talmud.
Shavuot Customs and Traditions
Some of the more popular customs for Shavuot include:
- Tikkun Leyl Shavuot -- This custom was established by the Kabbalists in order to learn all night. The Tikkun itself contains readings from the Written Torah, the Oral Torah, and selections from the Zohar, as well as an abbreviated rendition of the 613 Commandments.
- Eating Dairy -- Many reasons are given for this custom.
- The Sefer Hataamim states that the day Moses was drawn from the Nile was the 6th of Sivan (the same day as the holiday of Shavuot). As a baby, he refused to nurse from any but a Hebrew woman. In honor of this, we serve dairy on Shavuot.
- The Geulat Yisrael states that once the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, the laws of kosher slaughtering were to be obeyed. This rendered all their utensils unusable, and so they had to feast on dairy products.
- The Taamei Minhagim states that before the giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel actually refrained from eating dairy products for fear that milk was forbidden to anyone following the Noahide law against eating the "limb" of a living animal. Once the Torah was given, they could enjoy dairy freely.
- The numerical equivalent (gematria) of "chalav" (milk in Hebrew) is 40 (8+30+2). This represents the 40 days which Moses spent on Mount Sinai.
- Decorating with flowers and grasses -- Customarily the synagogue is decorated with flowers and grasses, but also the home. This represents the miraculous flowering at Mount Sinai as related in the exegetical (Midrash) texts.