A Note from Rabbi Raina
What is Shavuot, anyway? Although it enjoys a lofty status as one of Judaism’s three pilgrimage festivals (the Shalosh Regalim), Shavuot doesn’t get nearly as much press as Passover or Sukkot. This may be because Shavuot doesn’t have a labor-intensive, performative ritual that engages the whole family - There’s no Seder full of symbolic foods, no sukkah to build and decorate. Shavuot is brief, too – just two days as opposed to the eight days of Passover or Sukkot. But Shavuot is a little gem, filled with sweetness both physical and spiritual. As a kid, I don’t remember getting excited about Shavuot the way I looked forward to the other Jewish holidays.
It is ironic that Shavuot is such a little-known holiday, given that it
commemorates the single most important event in Jewish history – the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.Shavuot occurs on the 6th of Sivan, the culmination of a seven-week period, “counting of the Omer," that occurs following Passover. The very name "Shavuot" means "weeks," in recognition of the weeks of preparation and anticipation leading up to the Sinai experience.
Three millennia ago, after leaving Egypt on the day of Passover, the Jews traveled into the Sinai desert. There, the entire Jewish nation – men, women and children – directly experienced divine revelation:
God spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you were hearing the sound of words, but you were not seeing a form, only a sound. He told you of His covenant, instructing you to keep the Ten Commandments, and He inscribed them on two stone tablets. (Deut. 4:12-13)
The giving of the Torah was an event of awesome proportions that indelibly stamped the Jewish nation with a unique character, faith and destiny. And in the 3,300 years since, the Torah’s ideals – monotheism, justice, responsibility – have become the moral basis for Western Civilization.
There is a tradition to eat dairy foods on Shavuot, perhaps because the Torah is traditionally likened to “milk and honey.” What’s not to love about a short, sweet holiday that doesn’t involve back-breaking work, and that inspires us to study Torah and eat cheesecake?
Shavuot’s best-known tradition is the Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all-night Torah study extravaganza that occurs on the first night of the holiday. Of course, those who are familiar with the rhythms of life with children can see why Shavuot’s focus on pulling an all-nighter has made this holiday seem a little less than family-friendly. There are other ways in which synagogue communities can engage families with young children on Shavuot, though – and the themes of Shavuot are ones that families can delve into in fun and meaningful ways.
5/28 Webinar: The 1st Ever ... Small Congregations Tikkun Leil Shavuot 5780!
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Thursday, May 28, 6:00pm Central - Friday, May 29, 7:00 am Central
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Rabbi Raina Siroty