As I write this, we are counting down the days to Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, or as it is known in the New Testament and other Greek writings: Pentecost. Tonight, after sundown, we counted the 19th day of the Omer, the 50-day countdown from the “day after the Sabbath” during Passover until Shavuot.
Many readers are already familiar with the basics of Shavuot, and so I will go beyond and share resources to help everyone prepare for the coming festival of Adonai. But for beginners, be patient while I share a few basic facts about Shavuot:
— Scripture #1: Shows the beginning point of the 50-day count, Leviticus 23:10-11. This is the day of offering Barley Firstfruits during Passover. As you will see in future postings, there was controversy over what “day after the Sabbath” means.
–Scripture #2: The basic regulations for Shavuot, Leviticus 23:15-21. Count 49 days and on the 50th, it is Shavuot. This is the Firstfruits for wheat.
–Scripture #3: Shavuot as one of the three pilgrim feasts, Deuteronomy 16:16.
–Tradition #1: Shavuot is the day God gave the commandments from Sinai. This is based on Exodus 19:1 and following. The third month would start about 44 days after Israel left Egypt (months alternated 29 and 30 days and Israel left on Nisan 15, journeyed the 14 days left in that month, plus the 29 in Iyyar). Figuring in the three days of sanctification mentioned in Exodus 19 plus a delay or two, it is reasonable to say God gave the commandments within a day or two of Shavuot. Tradition says it was exactly on Shavuot.
–Tradition #2: Reading the book of Ruth, which features grain harvest (mostly barley).
–Tradition #3: Staying up all night on Shavuot Eve and reading scripture (traditionally there is a Tikkun Lel Shavuot book to follow which includes the beginning and ending of all portions of the Torah, small excerpts from each Mishnah and Talmud section, and the entire book of Ruth).
–Tradition #4: Decorating with flowers and eating dairy dishes (yay, cheese blintzes and cheesecake!). Some say this is to remind that God’s revelation is like milk sustaining us.
–New Testament Significance: Acts 2 tells the story of a certain Shavuot (Pentecost) when God gave the Holy Spirit. It is beyond interesting that the Spirit was given on an anniversary of the giving of the Torah. Sermons about the Law and the Spirit await!
BOOKS TO PREPARE FOR SHAVUOT
We have a Haggadah for Passover and it makes for a wonderful evening of food, stories, and fun. Sadly, Shavuot often gets little attention. I would love to see a Shavuot Haggadah come into use, and especially one for Messianic Judaism (hmm, perhaps I should write one and make it available free online).
Meanwhile, I would like to share two good resources for Shavuot preparation and study. One is out of print (sorry), but available used online. I am referring to Philip Goodman’s Shavuot Anthology, a collection of readings about Shavuot from the Bible, Jewish literature, Philo and Josephus, modern prose and poetry, liturgical hymns (piyyutim) of Judaism, children’s stories, recipes, ideas for celebration, and more. This book is about 400 pages packed with Shavuot goodness. It is so good I bought his anthology of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur online as well from used booksellers.
Still available and very useful for serious study is Artscroll’s Shavuos: Its Observance, Laws, and Significance. Artscroll books are Orthodox, of course, and always include kabbalistic and mystical ideas. At times I find some objectionable ideas in these resources, but I overlook them for the greater value of having so much knowledge condensed into one volume. The Shavuos (the Ashkenazi way to say Shavuot) volume has insights from modern rabbis (with a Hasidic bent) and detailed information about observance of Shavuot.
Beyond these two resources, I could also recommend any good book on the holidays, including one Messianic Jewish book, God’s Appointed Times by Barney Kasdan, available on amazon.com
In days ahead, we will be talking about Shavuot several times a week, so stay tuned. And write in with your thoughts and ideas about Shavuot as we go along. Any great books on Shavuot we should know about?