Four Ways to Celebrate Shavuot

Rabbi's Message - May 11, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Shavuot is the second of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, between Passover and Sukkot, and serves as both an agricultural holiday and well as a historical commemoration.  There are many ways that we can celebrate and observe this holiday, with traditions standing behind each one.  Here are some of my favorites:

1. Donate food to those in need.  Agriculturally, Shavuot marks the beginning of the wheat harvest.  We are taught in Exodus 34:22: “And you shall observe the feast of weeks, even the first fruits of the wheat harvest.”  Jews who lived during the days of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem would make the pilgrimage to bring first fruits from seven kinds of sources: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olive oil, and date honey.  Today, we honor the tradition of giving thanks for our earthly abundance by donating food to our partners at the food banks and to those who are hungry.  We hope that if you are seeking a meaningful way to continue this tradition, you support our efforts this Friday at our Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival in collecting donations for the Dayton Foodbank.

2. Study Torah.  Rabbinic interpretation also teaches that the ten commandments were given on the same day as Shavuot, the 6th of Sivan.  It is for this reason that on Shavuot we celebrate God giving us the Torah, the blueprint for how we are to live lives of holiness.   Tradition teaches us that the best way to give thanks to God for the gift of Torah is to engage in Torah study all night in what is called a “Tikkun Leil Shavuot.”  Often we go back to our basic understanding of God’s will by studying the Ten Commandments.  But there are many other Tikkun Leil Shavuot practices, including reading from each Torah portion, the Mishnah, the Book of Ruth, and even the Zohar.  

3. Honor our teens’ commitment to Jewish learning.  Years ago, the Reform movement recognized Shavuot as an opportunity to celebrate our commitment to Jewish learning. In particular, our high schoolers.  Though many see Bar or Bat Mitzvah as a culmination of Jewish learning, it hardly touches the surface.  There is much more to learn, especially as teens mature and have a broader understanding of the world.  For this reason, Reform Judaism created a Jewish confirmation ritual, to recognize the commitment of our youth to study and become learned Jewish men and women.  This Sunday, on Shavuot, we will honor six individuals for their ongoing studies and desire to understand Judaism from an adult perspective.  I hope that you will join me in tuning in to our Shavuot services on Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m., where they will share some of their own Torah with us.  

4. Enjoy some dairy food.  Another tradition tied to Shavuot is eating dairy.  There are a few explanations of this practice.  One is that it relates back to a verse in the Song of Songs (4:11) that tells about “the honey and milk” that shall be under our tongues.  We are taught that the words of Torah shall be to our hearts and our ears as honey and milk to our tongues.  The other reason given for dairy on Shavuot has to do with “new” laws presented in the Torah at Sinai dealing with preparing kosher animals for slaughter.  Until they were able to create a proper slaughtering knife, the Israelites were to refrain from eating meat. Today, we too refrain from meat on this day and celebrate with delicious dairy desserts, including cheesecake, blintzes, and rugelach.  

As you can see, there are numerous ways to observe our ancient festival of Shavuot.  I hope you will join me in affirming your commitment to Jewish learning in at least one of the opportunities listed above.  Make sure to submit an order for your rugelach today and to bring your own bikurim (food offerings)! Or perhaps learn from our youth on Sunday night at our Shavuot worship services on Zoom at 6:30 p.m.  Just as the Torah was not given to a single person, Shavuot is a group celebration.  Let’s gather as a community in whatever way we can to share the sweetness of our traditions.

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