Shavuot is one of the three liberty-oriented Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem: Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles), which constitute game-changing milestones in the formation of Jewish history, documenting the 4,000-year-old Jewish roots in the Land of Israel, and the unique linkage between the Land of Israel, Judaism and the Jewish people.
Shavou'ot is a historical, national, agricultural and spiritual extension of Passover. Passover highlights the physical liberty from slavery in Egypt; Shavuot highlights spiritual liberty, embracing the values of the Torah, the Ten Commandments and six chapters of The Ethics of our Fathers (Pirkey Avot). The eve of Shavuot is dedicated to an all-night study of Jewish values.
Shavuot is also called the Holiday of the Harvest (ביכורים), since it concludes the harvesting season, which starts during Passover.
Shavuot (שבועות) means “weeks” in Hebrew and its spelling is identical to the Hebrew word "vows."
Shavuot commemorates the 40 years of the Exodus, which entailed tough challenges on the road to the Land of Israel, forging the state-of-mind of the Jewish people and the Jewish State.
*No free lunch. Thus, earning and sustaining liberty requires the willingness to defy severe odds and sustain tribulations (blood, sweat and tears);
*Walking against the grain and can-do mentality. In other words, no challenge is insurmountable when met by faith and a principle-driven determination;
*The steeper the hurdle/opposition, the more critical is the mission, and the deeper the gratification;
*Adversities and challenges are opportunities in disguise.
2. The Scroll of Ruth (Honor thy mother in-law…)
Shavuot spotlights the Scroll of Ruth, the first of the five Biblical scrolls, which are studied during five Jewish holidays: Ruth (Shavuot), Song of Songs (Passover), Ecclesiastes (Sukkot/Tabernacles), Book of Lamentations (the Ninth day of Av), Esther (Purim). Ruth was a Moabite Princess, who voluntarily joined the Jewish people, and became the great grandmother of King David, the son of Jesse, who was the grandson of Ovad, Ruth’s son.
Ruth was a role model of loyalty to her Jewish mother in-law (“Your people are my people and your G-d is my G-d”), humility, gratitude, responsibility, reliability, faith, optimism and respect of fellow human beings. According to the Bible, Ruth, the daughter-in-law, was better than seven sons. Ruth stuck by her mother-in-law, Naomi, during Naomi’s roughest time, when she lost her husband, Elimelech (a President of the Tribe of Judah), two sons and property.
Just like Job, Naomi bounced back from the lowest ebb of her ordeal to fulfilled hope. Job and Naomi went through family, economic and social calamities, lost their spouses, children and financial assets; both retained confidence in G-d and reconstructed their families; both became symbols of conviction over convenience, faith-driven patience and endurance.
The legacy of Ruth reflects the central role played by Biblical women, such as Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, the four Matriarchs; Miriam, the older sister of Moses; Deborah the Prophetess, Judge and military leader; Hannah, the mother of Samuel the Prophet; Queen Esther and Yael, who delivered the people of Israel from the military might of Sisera, the Canaanite General (the Book of Judges); etc.
The geographic platform of the Scroll of Ruth was the Judean Desert (in Judea and Samaria), the cradle of Jewish history, religion, culture, language and ethnicity.
3. The centrality of humility
Shavuot highlights humility as a very critical value of human behavior and leadership. This is underlined by the receipt of the Torah, the Ten Commandments and the 613 statutes in the uncomfortable desert and on Mount Sinai, which is not an overpowering mountain. Moses, the exceptional law giver and civic and military leader, was accorded only one compliment in the entire Bible: "the humblest of all human beings" (Book of Numbers, 12:3)
4. The Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkey Avot in Hebrew)
It is customary to study - from Passover through Shavou'ot – 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 values, ethical and moral teachings, which underline key inter-personal relationships. For example:
"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."
5. Shavuot and the significance of 7
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 – Shavoua’). Shavuot reflects the centrality of 7 in Judaism.
Shavuot is celebrated 7 weeks following Passover.
Shavuot has 7 names: the holiday of the Fiftieth (day since Passover), the Harvest holiday, the Torah holiday, the Offerings holiday, the Rally holiday, the Assembly holiday and Shavou'ot.
The Sabbath was the 7th day of the Creation in a 7-day-week, and according to Genesis, there are 7 beneficiaries of the Sabbath.
The first Hebrew verse of Genesis consists of 7 words.
God created 7 universes – the 7th universe hosts the pure souls, hence “7th Heaven.”
There were 7 monumental Jewish leaders – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David, representing 7 key human qualities.
Moses was born and died on the 7th day of the Jewish month of Adar.
King David was one of 7 brothers: Eliav, Avinadav, Shima’, NethanEl, Raddai and Otzem.
There were 7 Jewish Prophetesses - Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chana, Abigail, Hulda and Esther.
There are 7 major Jewish holidays - Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Tabernacles, Chanukah, Purim, Passover and Shavuot.
A 7-day-recess separated the Ten Plagues of Egypt from each other.
The ancient Jewish Temple had a 7-branch-Menorah (candelabra).
There are 7 species of the Land of Israel - barley, wheat, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive and date/honey.
The Jubilee follows a 7 seven-year-cycle.
There are 7 blessings during a Jewish wedding and 7 days of mourning following a death.
Jethro had 7 names: Jethro, Reou’El, PootiEl, Khovav, Jether, Khever, Keini.
6. Modern day Israel’s Declaration of Independence was proclaimed between Passover (the physical deliverance) and Shavuot (the spiritual deliverance).
7. The impact on the formation of the US
The holiday of Shavou'ot (Pentecost) commemorates the legacy of Moses: the Exodus, the Ten Commandments and the Torah (the Five Books of Moses), which had a significant impact on the Early Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers, and the formation of the US culture, civic life, the federal system, the US Revolution (as highlighted by Thomas Paine's Common Sense), The Federalist Papers, the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
8. The US Liberty Bell
Shavuot is the holiday of liberty/Exodus, as highlighted by the Biblical concept of Jubilee, the role model of Biblical liberty, which is celebrated every 50 years. The essence of the Jubilee is engraved on the Liberty Bell: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus 25:10)."
The Biblical concept of the Jubilee inspired the anti-slavery Abolitionist movement in the US.
The Liberty Bell was installed in Philadelphia in 1752, 50 years following William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, and eventually inspiring the 50 States in the union.
According to the Biblical Jubilee, all slaves must be released and land must be returned to the original proprietors every 50 years.
Shavuot is celebrated 50 days following Passover, and Pentecost – a derivative of the Greek word for 50 - is celebrated 50 days following Easter.
According to Judaism, there are 50 gates of wisdom, studied during the 50 days between Passover and Shavou'ot.