For you shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and your descendents. And when you enter the land that the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. And when your children ask you, “What do you mean by this rite?” you shall say “It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses.” . . . . And all the Israelites did so; as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. That very day the Lord freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.
~Exodus 12.24-27, 50-51
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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!)
Pesach is almost here. Observant Jews worldwide are preparing for its arrival. Chametz, leavening, of every kind is being purged from our homes and from our hearts as we wait expectantly for Passover to begin. The first night recalls the events leading up to the Passover when we were still slaves in Egypt, and reminds us to tell the story to our children and to our children’s children down through the ages. This is a night of vigil, the eve of our liberation from bondage.
This is the night we ask the questions and drink the wine and eat the matza. This is the night we remember the first Pesach, the Passover.
Everything matters. Everything has significance.
The four cups of wine we drink throughout the seder mean something. They signify movement, they are the four expressions of redemption: (1) I will take you out, (2) I will save you from bondage, (3) I will redeem you, liberate you from subjugation, (4) I will take you to me as a people. This is followed by “and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” Why then are there not five cups of wine? Some say that the Elijah cup is the fifth cup. It signifies what is to come. When we the Jewish people come to know that the Lord is our God, then Hashem will “bring you to the land, concerning which I swore with an uplifted hand to give to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. . .“, the land of Israel.
This is not just any other night. This is the night of vigil. This is the Pesach. In a matter of days we will be sitting at our seders recalling the story of our liberation and freedom, our becoming a people. If not this year, then may we next year celebrate in Yerushalayim!
**All images were googled from stock photography.