Shavuot – Feast of Weeks or Pentecost

Shavuot – Feast of Weeks or Pentecost

ON THE 50th day after Passover, Deuteronomy 26 specifies that each person is to bring to the Priest an offering of the first fruits of the year, and upon transferring the offering, to make confession: “My father was a fugitive Aramean, He went down to Egypt with meagre numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labour upon us.

“We cried to the Eternal, the God of our ancestors, and the Eternal heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. The Eternal freed us from Egypt by a might hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents. God brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, God, have given me.”(Deuteronomy 26:5-10.

As we conclude the Counting of the Omer, the harvest season is ended and the agricultural cycle continues; we also mark the end of the period of anarchy in the great march of our Israelite forebears from Egypt and slavery and into the wilderness. Yet this first period is without Law, without ceremony, and without a clear understanding of the nature or requirements of the worship that Moses proposed to Pharaoh early in the Book of Exodus.

Torah teaches that on the first day of the third month – the month we call Sivan – the people encamped in the Wilderness of Sinai. And on the sixth day, the great revelation at Sinai took place. Midrash Rabba connects the sixth day to Genesis 1: 31. Humans created on the day six of creation are to receive the revelation of Torah at Sinai on the sixth of the month, a further step in explaining the purpose of creation.

Other Midrashim explain:

  • The selection of the Jewish people (all other people rejected the restrictions of Torah, Jews were compelled by the mountain held over them like an inverted washtub)
  • The choice of the place (God took a piece of Mount Moriah – the Temple Mount – and tore it off like challah from dough and placed it in the wilderness)
  • The choice of the first letter of Torah. Bet, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is closed above, below, and behind but open to the front. We are only permitted to speculate about what follows the bet, not what precedes it.

No less controversial through all ages is the nature of the revelation that is celebrated on this festival called Yom Matan Torah – the Day of the Law-Giving. Whether it was the words recorded in Exodus 20, or Deuteronomy 4 (The Ten Commandments) or the written Torah, or the whole of Torah-written and oral – it emerges as the great encounter of the Jewish People with God that sealed the Brit-Covenant that binds us even now to be a light to all nations and exemplars of humanity created in the image and likeness of God.