So, do Sinaites celebrate Shavuot/Pentecost?

[This was first posted in 2012.  Reposting on the celebration of Shavuot which falls this year on June 9-10,—Admin1].

 

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On Shabbat way back in May 26, [2012]. we devoted our Torah Study time to SHAVUOS ROADMAP, issued by Torah Mates: Exploring Judaism Together.  

 

If Jews today identify with the Israelites of that generation who left Egypt and gathered on Sinai,  we Sinaites likewise identify with the non-Israelites in the mixed multitude who witnessed the giving of the Torah by the God who identified Himself as Creator, and who gave His Name as YHWH.  

 

That generation of Israelites and non-Israelites gave their assent in one voice:  

 

“Everything that HASHEM has spoken we shall do!”  

 

We made this pledge on September 2010 when we realized Torah applied to Gentiles like us.  We agreed among ourselves that we should celebrate Shavuot along with Israel, albeit in a different manner — by reading and discussing the Torah portions relating to the Sinai event and ascertain its continuing significance in the life of a believer in the self-revealing God on Sinai–YHWH. [We have VAN@S6K to thank for sharing this roadmap which had been in his study file since 2010.]

 

Some excerpts which add more information to what was published in the earlier article titled:  TORAH and Pentecost.

 

 Since this was written by a Jew for Jews, whenever you read the word “Jew” — include us Gentiles as well, for YHWH is the God of the whole universe full of people, both Jew and gentile.  

 

Israel does not have an exclusive claim on YHWH, but we thank Israel for preserving the Torah in their Hebrew Scriptures so that we gentiles could discover the One True God Who chose them to be His “light to the gentiles.”  

 

Shavuos is the day to accept the Torah, just like the mixed multitude on Mount Sinai.  

 

I.  The Facts

 

  • The period between Passover and Shavuos is called the Omer.  It marks the seven weeks between the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai (which is the event that Shavuos celebrates).  The 49 days of the Omer are verbally counted, and the 50th day of the Omer is Shavuos.  The word Shavuos means “weeks,” which refers to the counting of the seven weeks.
  • Shavuos is also called:  Shavuos is mentioned in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) as one of the three pilgrimage festivals, when the Jews gathered at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  These include Sukkos and Pesach as well.  The Torah (Numbers 28:26-31) instructs the Jewish people,

 

“Also in the day of the first fruits, when you bring a new meal-offering to the G-d in your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy assembly.  You shall not do any type of productive work.”

 

  • “Atzeres,” which means the cessation or conclusion.  This is the name by which Shavuos is called in the Talmud. Some commentators explain that Shavuos is actually the end of a festive period that begins with Pesach.  Another explanation is that all productive work (besides certain food preparation) is prohibited.  Thus “Atzeres” refers to the cessation of work.
  • Yom HaBikurim:  The Day of the First Fruits Shavuos was the time when the first fruits of the Seven Species were brought to the Holy Temple to be given to the Kohen (priest).
  • Chag HaKatzir: The harvest festival
  • In addition, the prayers on Shavuos refer to the holiday as Z’man Mattan Toraseinu:  the time of the giving of our Torah.
  • Unlike the other festivals, Shavuos is not designated by date in the Torah.  Instead, the Torah instructs us to count 49 days from “the day after Shabbos.”  The Talmud explains this to mean the second day of Passover, which follows the first day of Passover, referred to as Shabbos.  These 49 days are designated as the Counting of the Omer, which, we discuss in our Pesach booklet.  The Torah commands us to verbally count these days one by one, according to a special formulation that keeps track of the days and weeks.
  • This seven-week period is a time that is specially primed for spiritual growth and striving since it is during this period that the Jews lifted themselves out of their slave mentality and prepared to become G-d’s “nation of priests.”  This is a reason why Shavuos, the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, was designated to follow the period of the Omer, rather than be fixed by calendar date.

 

II.  The Story of the Giving of the Torah

 

The Torah relates in minute detail the astounding events of G-d’s revelation of the Torah.  This momentous occasion, singular in all of the history of the world, was witnessed by at least 3 million men, women and children.  It seared a permanent imprint into their souls, which became the Jewish people’s “spiritual DNA” for all generations.  Parent to child, teacher to student, this knowledge has come down through the ages in a traceable chain.  Only approximately 100 intergenerational transmissions need be counted to get from Mount Sinai to your own family.  

 

But the Jew’s magnetic attraction to the truth found in the Torah is not just a product of teaching:  in reality, every Jew was present at its giving.  Our Sages teach us that every Jewish soul that ever existed or will exist in the future was present at Mount Sinai. The Torah we learn in our lifetimes resounds so strongly within us because we are not really learning new, foreign concepts.  Rather, we are merely reawakening something already embedded in our essence.  To a Jew, Torah has the sweet taste of home.  Below are some of the details of this world-altering event that brought moral structure to the entire world.

 

  • The Jews had been traveling from Egypt for almost two months.  They encamped in the wilderness of Sinai, opposite the mountain.
  • G-d proposed a covenant to Moses:  

“You have seen what I did to Egypt, and that I have borne you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me.  And now, if you listen well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all people.  You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

 

  • Moses relayed G-d’s message to the elders, and without asking for any further clarification of what the covenant would demand of them, they agreed to accept it.
  • G-d explained that he would appear in a thick cloud and speak so that all could hear His voice, thus reaffirming the people’s faith in Moses and his power of prophecy.  He described a three-day purification process that the people would have to undergo in order to be prepared to stand in such close proximity to G-d’s presence.  He also established the boundaries where they would be permitted to stand.

“On the third day when it was morning, there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and the sound of the shofar was very powerful and the entire people that was in the camp shuddered.  Moses brought the people forth from the camp toward G-d, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain.  All of Mount Sinai was smoking because G-d had descended upon it in the fire; its smoke ascended like the smoke of the furnace and the entire mountain shuddered exceedingly. The sound of the shofar grew continually much stronger; Moses would speak and G-d would respond to him with a voice” (Exodus 19:16-19)

 

“Moses went up to the mountain, but G-d told him to descend again and warn the priests and the people not to trespass over the boundaries that had been set, “lest Hashem burst forth against them.” (Exodus 19:22)

 

  • God issued the Ten Commandments in the hearing of all those assembled.  The experience was so intense that the people begged Moses to act as an intermediary for them.

 

 “You speak to us and we shall hear; let G-d not speak to us lest we die.” (Exodus 20:16)  

 

G-d then taught the Torah to Moses, a process which took 40 days.  This included the laws transmitted orally and expounded upon in the Talmud.

 

The Family Legacy

 

The Torah is called “Morasha Kehillas Yaakov – the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob,” which in simple English means the inheritance of the Jewish people.  Given in public to the entire nation, it has never been the exclusive property of the learned or the elite of our people.  It belongs to every Jew, and the Torah itself ensures that it will remain so with this commandment transmitted from Moses to the people of Israel:

 

“Only beware for yourself and greatly beware for your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have beheld. Do not remove this memory from your heart all the days of your life.  Teach your children and your children’s children about the day that you stood before the Lord your G-d at Chorev (Sinai) . . .” (Deuteronomy 4:9-13)

 

The Torah can be learned at any level.  The smallest children and the most phenomenal geniuses have all found themselves at home in Torah study.

 

 

III.  The First Fruits

 

The First Bite

 

Little is as tantalizing as the first bite of a tasty delicacy.  For a farmer, the ripest and choicest of his fruits are enticing indeed.  He has labored hard for an entire year, plowing, planting, pruning, tending and harvesting, and his natural tendency would be to literally enjoy the fruits of his labors.

 

The Torah teaches, however, that in the midst of one’s experiencing the sense of satisfaction over a job well done, a person must shake himself awake.  He must instill in his heart the immense gratitude due to G-d for giving him his success.  For a farmer, especially, it should be clear that all the plowing, planting and pruning in the world cannot guarantee a crop.  Weather, insects and dozens of other variables can easily render his efforts useless.

 

The same is true for every person trying to make a livelihood in this world. The best business deal can go sour, the most talented professional can lose a job.  Effort comes from people, but success comes from Above.

 

This is the lesson of the First Fruits, an awe-inspiring and festive ritual that coincides with Shavuos.  It was a colorful, magnificent outpouring of thankfulness to G-d which took place at the Holy Temple.  Below is a description of how the First Fruits, known as Bikurim, were brought to Jerusalem each year.

 

Our “Thanksgiving Parade”

 

The process began when the farmer entered his fields and saw that his produce was beginning to ripen.  Bikurim were taken from the seven species that are designated specifically as blessings of the Land of Israel:  wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.  When the farmer noticed the first fruit from these species ripening, he tied a string or ribbon around it and declared, “This is for Bikurim.”  Once they were reeds, but the wealthy landowners brought theirs in baskets of silver or gold.

 

When the time to travel to Jerusalem arrived, those leaving from each location would gather together and set out in the morning in a festive procession accompanied by music.  The group was preceded by a bull whose horns were decorated with gold and whose head was adorned with a wreath.

 

When they approached Jerusalem, they sent messengers into the city to announce their arrival.  The city’s dignitaries would come to greet them, and even hired workers were permitted to interrupt their tasks to welcome them.  Everyone paid homage to those involved in this joyous mitzvah.

 

As they proceeded to the Temple Mount, they were accompanied by the music of a flute.  On arrival at the Temple Mount, each person would hoist his own basket onto his shoulder.  Even those wealthy men whose offerings had been carried by servants up to that point would now bear their own basket to the Temple court.  Each person would bring his basket to the Kohen (priest) in the Temple  and recite a declaration of gratitude to G-d for redeeming the Jewish people from slavery and giving us the Land of Israel.  The statement concludes: “He brought us to this place.  He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold I have brought the first fruits of the land that Thou O L-rd hast given me.”

 

The person would then leave his basket and bow before G-d.

 

 

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

 

Imagine you were there — standing beneath the towering peak of Mount Sinai, the sky thick with clouds and pierced by bolts of lightning.  A shofar blast grows louder and louder, and the very ground beneath your feet trembles with awe.  A voice resounds, striking so deeply within you that you feel your soul depart.  

 

“I am the L-rd, your G-d,” 

 

it pronounces, and you know in your very bones that this is the ultimate truth.

It may be a far cry from standing in your neighborhood synagogue listening to your cantor chant the holy words that were spoken to the Jewish people on the first Shavuos.  However, with a little mental focus, a little vision and an open heart, you, too, can feel the receiving of the Torah on Shavuos.  After all, your soul was present at Mount Sinai.

 

Here is a brief summary of the concepts included in the Ten Commandments:

 

  1.   I am the L-rd your G-d . . . ” (recognizing G-d)
  2.   Prohibition against idol worship
  3.   Prohibition against using G-d’s name in vain – especially in an oath
  4.   Remembering Shabbos and keeping it holy
  5.   Honoring parents
  6.   Prohibition against murder
  7.   Prohibition against adultery
  8.   Prohibition against stealing or kidnapping
  9.   Prohibition against testifying falsely
  10.   Prohibition against coveting other people’s family or property

 

It is worthwhile to note that while most congregations stand while the Ten Commandments are being chanted, the great sage,  Maimonides objected to this custom.  That is because the Torah actually contains 613 commandments, and the Jewish people are required to keep them all with equal vigilance.  He feared that by standing for the reading of these ten particular commandments, people would conclude that they are the most important ones and all others are secondary.  In truth, however, there are no “minor” commandments.

 

First, Derech Eretz

 

There were seven weeks between the Jews’ departure from Egypt and their arrival at Mount Sinai.  Our Sages teach us that giving the Jews the Torah was the real object of taking them out of slavery.  G-d did not want to simply set us free to become a nation like all others; He wanted us to be His agents on earth, helping to nudge the world toward its ultimate state of G-dly perfection.  You might wonder then if receiving the Torah was the goal, why the delay?  Why did G-d not give it to us as soon as we reached safety?

 

One answer comes from the words “Derech eretz before Torah,” from Pirkey Avos (3:17)., a compilation of our Sages’ ethical teachings.  Derech eretz is a term that literally means “the way of the land.”  It is usually understood to mean good character –consideration, responsibility, honesty and so forth.  The Sages tell us that a person has to develop these traits in order to properly learn, absorb, and live by the Torah.  Torah is not merely a philosophy a person can study on an intellectual plane; it is meant to be a way of life.

 

Do First, Ask Questions Later

 

When G-d created the physical world we see all around us, He also created a spiritual world filled with mysterious forces and powers that execute G-d’s will.  The English word “angels” is used to identify some of these forces, but these are not the type of “angels” popular culture depicts as cherubs with wings and harps.  In Hebrew, angels are called malachim, which means “messengers.”  They are messengers of G-d’s will, and therefore, they have no will of their own.

 

This sharply distinguishes them from man, who was given his own will and spends most of his lifetime trying to rein it in and direct it properly. Though his level of devotion to G-d’s will is usually much lower than that of an angel, his distinction is that he himself achieves this level.  There was, however, one time in Jewish history when our people rose to the level of the malachim, and that was at the giving of the Torah.

 

When G-d offered the Torah to the Jewish people, Moses transmitted His offer to the elders of Israel and they responded with the words, “na’aseh v’nishma,” which means “we will do and we will hear.”  In other words, they made the commitment to accept the Torah, to learn and abide by G-d’s will, before they even heard what the Torah actually contained.  They had become, at least for this time, like the angels, desiring only to be an instrument of G-d’s plan.

 

This flash of spiritual loftiness has remained the paradigm for Jews ever since.  Although we are obligated to inquire into, learn, study and understand our religious laws and ethics, we are also always aware that a complete understanding of G-d’s ways is beyond human intelligence.  Our first commitment is to do and then to seek understanding of what we do.  The Sages teach us that each word — “na’seh” and “nishma” — is a crown upon the head of every Jew–two crowns of honor, which the Jewish people wear with pride as they bear the Torah’s message throughout the ages.

 

Tailor-Made

 

King Solomon taught in Proverbs, “Teach each child according to his way . . .”   A good teacher knows that different children learn differently. This is, in fact, G-d’s own teaching technique which has been passed down through the ages.  The Sages teach that when the Jewish people heard the Ten Commandments, each heard G-d’s word according to his own level of understanding.  The message that imprinted itself upon each person was the same message, but it was transmitted in a way that exactly suited each person’s learning style and level of understanding.  To this day, G-d’s method sets the paradigm for how Torah should be taught.  If the student hasn’t learned, then the teacher hasn’t taught.

 

One Man, One Heart

 

The Torah relates that when the Jews arrived in the Sinai wilderness, they set up camp.  The word used for encamping, however, is in the singular form, rather than the plural form that would normally be used for a group of people.  Rashi explains that the singular form conveys a message — that the Jewish people were in a state of complete unity.  They were “as one man with one heart,” united in their desire to receive G-d’s Torah.

 

The unity of the Jewish people is a force of immense power.  The times in our history when we were united have always brought us Divine favor and protection.  Times of fragmentation and strife have always brought disaster.  Most notably, the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile in which we remain are traced to the lack of unity that prevailed in that period and which, unfortunately, continues today.

 

Obviously, however, people are all very different from each other and the tendency to see “different’ as “wrong” is a very strong human inclination.  But as the Jews at Sinai proved, when everyone’s eyes are lifted toward Heaven, their hearts are in the right place as well.

 

Dairy Delights

 

The dietary laws themselves are a perfect example of the Jewish people’s willingness to act in accordance with the words na’aseh v’nishma” (see Do First, Ask Questions Later).  Attempts to explain the laws as health measures (i.e., Jews have been spared certain diseases carried by pork and shellfish) may illustrate some benefits of keeping kosher, but they are far from conclusive reasons.

 

On a deeper level, kosher laws cause a person to think before he eats.  Kosher slaughtering provides the most painless death possible to the animal.  Keeping dairy separate from meat forces us to recognize the distinction between life and death, even of a lower creature.  By avoiding eating predatory animals, we distance ourselves from cruelty.  Culturally, the dietary laws ensure that the Jewish people cannot completely meld into the society around them, thereby losing their identity and abandoning their G-d-given role in the world.

 

Yet none of these benefits fully explains the dietary laws. They are simply G-d’s prescription for the health and well-being of the Jewish soul

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