Beginning with the sunset on Saturday, Jews throughout the world will begin to observe Shavuot, the most meaningful (to me) and favorite of Jewish holidays. It commemorates, that incredible day when God gave us the Ten Commandments and the Torah.
People living in the US, might think that Chanukah is the major Jewish holiday, actually it is a very minor holiday. Shavuot is one of the three major festivals (the other two are Passover and Sukkot). In biblical days, Jews would travel from all over the Holy Land to Jerusalem to make a sacrifice at the Holy Temple on those three festivals.
Historically, Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah). Notice it says Giving of the Torah not receiving of the Torah. We believe that Jews are always receiving the Torah, learning its meanings, understanding the mitzvot, so receiving doesn’t work because every “time” is the time of receiving the Torah.
Interesting Facts about Shavuot:
- Mount Sinai: We are taught that Mount Sinai was chosen because it was a “modest sized mountain” Not only because Moses was an old man when he had to climb the mountain (up and down 4 times), but because God wanted to show that man did not have to be large in stature to meet his potential. Another reason Sinai was chosen was because it was outside of the Holy Land. The laws given at Sinai are basic laws and should apply to all people. If the law was given outside of the Holy Land could God legitimately say that these basic rules of how people should approach their lives, apply to everyone?
- What Moses looked like: How the heck would I know. But I can definitely tell you he didn’t look like the Charlton Heston-like, traditional way the lawgiver has been portrayed in movies and art. Think about it, here was the child of Hebrew slaves raised in the court of Pharaoh–why would he look like a tall westerner? Sorry to burst your bubbles but Moses was probably short by today’s standards and had dark skin like Middle Easterners today (BTW we know his wife was black).
- The Revelation at Sinai. Think about it for a second, the Torah says there were 603,000 people at Sinai, to hear Gods words in God’s voice.The first two of the Ten Commandments were also heard directly from God speaking to the Jewish people, and not through Moses as an intermediary. Jewish tradition explains that the experience was so powerful, that the Jews “died” from the impact — their souls left their bodies from the force of the interaction, and God had to “revive” them. After this happened twice, the Jewish people said, “Enough! We’re convinced – you tell Moses and he can tell us the rest of them to us!” There is no other religious event in the history of mankind where the presence of God was seen and heard by an entire nation.
- In the Torah, the first word of the Ten Commandments Anochi (I am) is not in Hebrew it’s in Egyptian. Seven before ago those Israelites were slaves in Egypt, the Lord wanted them to feel comfortable, so he started with an Egyptian Word, bringing up the question–if the revelation at Sinai happened today, would the first words be ‘Dudes, I’m the Alpha Dog here?”
- They’re not really called the Ten Commandments, at least in Judaism. In Biblical Hebrew, the commandments are called עשרת הדברים (transliterated Aseret ha-Dvarîm) and in Rabbinical Hebrew עשרת הדברות (transliterated Aseret ha-Dibrot), both translatable as “the ten words” or “the ten things. While many Rabbis believe that all of the rest of the Commandments stem from these Ten, they also teach that all 613 commandments in the Torah are equal (except for giving to charity and honoring your parents). Pirkei Avot, a book of the Mishnah, teaches “Be as meticulous in performing a ‘minor’ mitzvah as you are with a ‘major’ one, because you don’t know what kind of reward you’ll get for various mitzvot.”
- The Commandments have no “Thou Shalts.”Jews believe that our maker is a “bottom line” type. So there were no “thou shalts” nor were there any “thou shalt nots” in the the Commandments, so for instance it’s not “thou shalt not steal but “Don’t Steal.”
- There is no commandment that says, “Don’t Kill.” The Hebrew לֹא תִרְצָח translates to “Don’t murder.” What’s the difference? If it said don’t kill then self-defense, death penalty, war etc. would be banned, they’re not…only intentional murder.
- Moses’ Father-in-Law Gets Top Billing? The name of the Parsha (weekly Torah reading) in which the revelation occurs is not named after the Ten Commandments, it is called Yitro, after Moses’ father-in-law who was not Jewish. There are only two Parshot in the Torah named after a non Jew so this is a big deal. At the beginning of this Parsha, Yitro sits Moses down and explains to him how to delegate so he can spend more time with family. This teaches us two things, to God Shalom Ha-Bayit (peace in the House) is more important than anything, spending time with family is also God’s work. It also teaches us that father-in-laws are not only allowed to, but are supposed to butt in.
- All Night Study Sessions: Just before God gives us the Commandments, the Torah says, It came to pass on the third day when it was morning, that there were thunder claps and lightning flashes, and a thick cloud was upon the mountain, and a very powerful blast of a shofar, and the entire nation that was in the camp shuddered. The Rabbis interpret this as God was already on the top of the Mountain waiting for us, but we had overslept so the Lord had to make a heck of racket and wake us up. So on the first evening of the holiday (Saturday night this year) we have a Tikkun Leil Shavuot (repairing the Evening of Shavout). We spend all night studying Torah, to remember that we screwed up and overslept. We are showing God that we appreciate the Torah he gave us, and we are not going to oversleep again. And to make sure we stay awake–we eat while we study.
- Pizza, Blintzes and Ice Cream, Why Shavuot is my Favorite Jewish Holiday. When God was done with giving us the Torah on Shavuot, we were told the Israelite people realized that their plates were not “Kosher.” While they were making their plates and utensils Kosher, they ate only dairy. So….We DO TOO. So Shavuot is 48 hours of Pizza, Blitzes and Cookies and Cream Ice Cream (any flavor is OK, that’s Just my favorite). That’s why Shavuot is my Favorite Jewish Holiday. The two days of Shavuot, are the only two day of the year you can tell your wife “Yes Honey, I am a diabetic and the doctor did tell me to lose weight, but this is not splurging, I am only eating this pint of Hagan-Daz because I am following God’s Law” How Cool is that!
There is an Old Story about a religious school Gan (kindergarten) teacher talking to her students about Shavuot. “OK Class, who knows why we celebrate Shavout?” “OOOH, OOOH I know,” said little Karen, “Shavout is when we light candles and celebrate the Maccabees.” “No Karen,that’s Chanukah good try.” Said the teacher. “Anybody else?” Shmully raised his hand. “Shavout is when we wear costumes and play with noise makers” “Sorry Shmully, that is Purim.” the teacher said. Just then a little boy in the back of the room raised his hand. “Yes Johnny?“
“I know Shavout,” Johnny said tentatively,” You see, Moses went up the mountain and stayed for 40 days and 40 nights.” “That’s right Johnny,” the teacher encouraged. “After 40 days Moses came down the mountain carrying two stone tablets that had the Ten Commandments on them,” He continued. “Keep going” said the teacher. “And if he sees his shadow we have six more weeks of winter.“
Have a wonderful holiday and whether you are Jew or Gentile, eat lots of your favorite flavor of ice cream (remember its God’s will). And as for what was written on those two tablets, those “Ten Words” they are below (H/T God)
Then God said all these words: “I am ADONAI your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery.
1)You are to have no other gods before me.
2)You are not to make for yourselves a carved image or any kind of representation of anything in heaven above, on the earth beneath or in the water below the shoreline. You are not to bow down to them or serve them; for I, ADONAI your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but displaying grace to the thousandth generation of those who love me and obey my mitzvot.
3) You are not to use lightly the name of ADONAI your God, because ADONAI will not leave unpunished someone who uses his name lightly.
4) Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work -not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the for eigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, ADONAI made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why ADONAI blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.
5) Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land which ADONAI your God is giving you.
6) Don’t murder.
7) Don’t commit adultery.
8) Don’t steal.
9) Don’t give false evidence against your neighbor.” Note: this is Al Sharpton’s least favorite of the ten.
10) Do not covet your neighbor’s house; do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox, his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.“