Thursday, October 17th | 19 Tishri 5780

May 30, 2017 10:12 am

Shavuot Guide for the Perplexed, 2017

avatar by Yoram Ettinger


A Torah scroll. Photo:

1. Liberty. The Shavuot holiday reflects the 3,500 year old trilateral linkage between the Land of Israel (pursued by Abraham), the Torah of Israel (transmitted through Moses) and the People of Israel (united by David) — a unique territorial/national/spiritual platform. Shavuot is a spiritual liberation holiday, following Passover, which is a national liberation holiday (the Exodus), in preparation for the territorial liberation: the return to the Land of Israel.

2. Humility. Shavuot commemorates the receipt of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) and its 613 statutes — an annual reminder of essential values. The Torah was received in the desert, on Mount Sinai, which is not a very tall mountain, highlighting humility — a most critical value of human behavior and leadership. Moses, the exceptional law-giver and leader, was accorded only one compliment: “the humblest of all human beings.” Abraham, King David and Moses are role-models of humility. Their Hebrew acronym (pronounced Adam) means “human-being,” the root of “soil” in Hebrew.

3. Human behavior. It is customary to study — from Passover to Shavuot — the six brief chapters of The Ethics of the Fathers, one of the 63 tractates of the Mishnah (the Oral Torah) — a compilation of common sense principles, ethical and moral teachings that underline inter-personal relationships.

For example:

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“Who is respected? He who respects other persons!”

“Who is a wise person? He who learns from all other persons!”

“Who is wealthy? He who is satisfied with his own share!”

“Who is a hero? He who controls his urge!”

“Talk sparsely and walk plenty.”

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”

“Don’t be consumed with the flask, but with its content.”

“Conditional love is tenuous; unconditional love is eternal.”

“Treat every person politely.”

“Jealousy, lust and the obsession with fame warp one’s mind.”

4. Jubilee/Constitution. Shavuot  is celebrated on the 50th day following Passover, and has seven names (the Pentecost is celebrated on the 7th Sunday after Easter): The holiday of the Jubilee/fiftieth; the holiday of the harvest; the holiday of the giving of the Torah (מתן תורה); Shavuot; the holiday of the offerings; the rally and the assembly. The Hebrew acronym of the seven names is חקת שבעה, which means “The Constitution of the Seven.”

5. The US-Israel covenant. Shavuot sheds light on the Judeo-Christian values that are the foundation of the unique covenant between the Jewish state and the American people. These values shaped the worldview of the Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers, and impacted the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers, the system of checks and balances and the abolitionist movement. The British philosopher John Locke wanted the 613 Laws of Moses to become the legal foundation of the Carolinas.

Abraham Lincoln’s famous 1863 quote — “government of the people, by the people, for the people” — paraphrased a statement made by the 14th century British philosopher and translator of the Bible, John Wycliffe: “The Bible is a book of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Furthermore, the Jubilee — the cornerstone of Biblical/Mosaic liberty — inspired the US Founding Fathers. The following Biblical essence is inscribed on the Liberty Bell (Leviticus 25:10), which was installed in 1752, the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Moreover, according to ancient Jewish sages, the globe was created through 50 gates of wisdom, and the 50th gate was the gate of jubilee/liberty/deliverance. The USA is, of course, composed of 50 states.

6. Agriculture. Originally, Shavuot  was an agricultural holiday, celebrating the first harvest/yield by bringing offerings (bikkurim-ביכורים) to the Temple in Jerusalem. But following the destruction of the Second Temple and the Jewish exile in 70 AD, the focus of the holiday shifted to Torah awareness, in order to sustain the Jewish people’s connection to the Land of Israel, and avoid spiritual and physical oblivion.

7. Seven. Shavuot reflects the centrality of the number seven in Judaism. The Hebrew root of Shavuot  (שבועות) is seven (שבע — sheva), which is also the root of “vow” (שבועה — shvoua), “satiation” (שובע — sova) and “week” (שבוע — shavua).

Shavuot is celebrated seven weeks following Passover. The Sabbath is the seventh day of the Creation — in a seven-day week. The first Hebrew verse of Genesis consists of seven words. According to Genesis, there are seven beneficiaries of the Sabbath.

According to the Torah, God also created seven universes — the seventh hosts the pure souls, hence “Seventh Heaven.” There were seven monumental Jewish leaders: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aharon, Joseph and David — representing seven human qualities. There are also seven Jewish Prophetesses (Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chana, Abigail, Choulda and Esther), seven major Jewish holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Tabernacles, Hanukah, Purim, Passover and Shavuot) and seven species of the Land of Israel (barley, wheat, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive and date/honey).

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