Praying the Psalms

Archive for June 7, 2011

Leviticus 23.15-16,21 — Shavuot

Sefer Torah -- or Torah scroll (no photo credits given)

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering–the day after the sabbath–you shall count off seven weeks.  They must be complete. You must count until the day after the seventh week–fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Lord. . . . On that same day you shall hold a celebration; it shall be a sacred occasion for you; you shall not work at your occupations. This is a law for all time in all your settlements, throughout the ages.

At sundown tonight, we begin the festival of Shavuot, known as “Festival of Weeks” to many people.  Shavuot is a time of celebration and giving thanks for the new  grain of the summer wheat harvest in Israel.  The festival gets its name because we were commanded to count 49 days from the second day of Passover.  At this time the grain was harvested, taking care to leave the edges of the field untouched so that the poor would be able to glean a little wheat for themselves.  Offerings were then presented in the Temple.

Shavuot is also the time of celebrating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, an event that occurred at this time of the year. Many people will stay up the entire night in order to study Torah, a custom that has been observed for many generations to honor this defining event in our history and our lives.

The story of Ruth is told during Shavuot, too, for the following reasons: it occurred at the time of the festival of Shavuot and Ruth was among the poor who gleaned wheat from the edges of Boaz‘s fields; Boaz was taken with Ruth’s modesty and the two would marry and bear a child; Ruth was a Moabite convert who chose to receive the Torah when she converted; Ruth is the great grandmother of David the King (Dovid HaMelech), a mother to Jewish royalty.  All of this is told in the biblical book of Ruth.

As a convert to Judaism, the Festival of Shavuot has special meaning to me.  We begin our celebration at sundown tonight.  To all my Jewish friends, Chag Shavuot Sameach (Happy Shavuot!)