By Jo Strausz Rosen
Shavuot falls after a verbal counting of the 49 days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and today – the formal end of the counting of the Omer (the days between Passover and Shavuot). It is the milestone day the Israelites received and accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
We celebrate the day by eating dairy products like cheesecake, blintzes, kugel, and staying up all night to study and learn (tikkun) our history. If lactose intolerant, there are many vegan alternatives out there, so one can still celebrate with tofu, oat milk or almond milk “dairy.”
From the time the Israelites hurried to leave Egypt with nothing but some manna in their backpacks, they wandered in the desert for seven weeks. The Hebrew word for seven is sheva, and shares a root with the word Shavuot, which means “weeks.” Mystical Jews believe that the numbers speak for themselves. The word dairy in Hebrew is chalav, and if we add the numerical value of the three Hebrew letters that make up that word, we get the number forty.
It is a tradition to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot. I consulted ‘The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia.’ The Book of Ruth is described in modern terms – “Desperate Housewives of Canaan, dead husbands, Levirate marriages, sexy harvest scenes… whose heroine is a Moabite who converts to Judaism, after the death of her husband, later marries Boaz and embracing the Torah as a Jew leading her to become the great-grandmother of King David.”
More research into the story teaches us that Boaz was a wealthy landowner of Bethlehem in Judea. He was the son of Salmon and his wife Rahab. Boaz noticed Ruth, the widowed Moabite daughter-in-law of Naomi, a relative of his, gleaning grain in his fields… Imagine the miniseries we could watch on Netflix! Ruth is the most famous convert in Jewish history.
Many communities will have learn-a-thons that go until sunrise. Jews around the world adhere to Torah study during Shavuot.. Through study we may learn why dairy is the food of choice, as the Torah was given on the Sabbath, and no animals could be slaughtered to celebrate the happy occasion. Additionally, Shavuot was one of three pilgrimage festivals in which all the Jewish men would go to Jerusalem and bring their first fruits as offerings to Gd.
JSL Jewish Chaplaincy director, Rabbi David Polter tells us to note the importance of this holiday, to attend synagogue and to listen to a public reading of the Ten Commandments the morning of May 26th. The more we learn, the more we know.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Somaech