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Shavuot - The Basics

What is it?
The Hebrew word Shavuot means “weeks”. This holiday, known as the Festival of Weeks, is one of the three major Festivals in the Jewish calendar– the other two being Passover and Sukkot. It is an agricultural holiday marking the first fruits that were brought to the Temple, and it is also the holiday where we commemorate the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people.

Shavuot is connected to Passover by The Counting of the Omer, which begins on the second night of Passover. We count seven weeks of seven days until arriving at the holiday of Shavuot. One would not be complete without the other. Passover marks our physical redemption from slavery in Egypt. Shavuot marks our spiritual liberation and acceptance of the Torah. The time in between – The Counting of the Omer – symbolizes our preparation for the receiving of the Torah. Each year, we prepare anew and receive again G-d’s gift of the Torah.

Customs
* The holiday of Shavuot is a “no work” holiday but, unlike Shabbat, we are permitted to cook and to carry.
* To remember and honor the giving of the Torah, it is customary to engage in all-night learning.
* We read the Book of Ruth, the story of a dedicated Jew and a convert to Judaism. The Ten Commandments are also read, and it is an important custom to hear them being read in synagogue.
* As in most of our holidays, food plays an important part. Traditionally, we eat a dairy meal. Why? Some say because of the promise for the Land of Milk and Honey. Another reason involves the practicality of observing kosher. Having just been given the Torah, the Jewish people in the desert did not have separate dishes for milk and meat. Nor did they have the proper means to properly slaughter animals as dictated to them in the Torah.
* In the diaspora, Shavuot lasts for two days. On the second day, the Yizkor service takes place.

Meaning
Shavuot – though one of the major festivals – tends to be a rather neglected holiday. However, there are many ways to honor this special day and make it meaningful for yourself and your family.

Many synagogues host all-night learning sessions. Others provide special learning hours but don’t carry it through all night. It is a powerful experience to delve into Torah in the wee hours of the night.

Attending synagogue services to hear the reading of the Book of Ruth and the Ten Commandments are a traditional part of this day. If your synagogue does not offer this, there are probably others in your area that do.

Host a dairy meal and bring others together to celebrate Shavuot. Include conversation about why Torah is important to you, how its importance has evolved throughout your life, and what it means to you to live a Jewish life.

If you are unable to participate in a community honoring of Shavuot, think about printing out some materials (prior to the holiday) or purchasing a book that you can read on the holiday.

Spirituality is something that many Jews go outside of Judaism to search for. The holiday of Shavuot is all about spiritual preparedness and the eternal responsibility for our own spiritual growth. Shavuot is about rededicating ourselves to Torah and delving further into the kind of Jewish people we would like to be.

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