The Meaning of Shavuot

The holiday of Shavuot is upon us. This much-loved holiday known widely for celebrating with cheesecake and other delicious foods like bourekas, blintzes and lasagna is an important holiday that has no less than three names: Chag Matan Torah, the holiday of the giving of the Torah; Chag HaKatzir, the Reaping Holiday, and Chag Habikurm, holiday of the First Fruits.

The holiday is celebrated exactly seven weeks after Passover. Shavuot, which literally means ‘festival of weeks’, is celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover. According to the Torah, it took seven weeks for the Israelites to travel from Egypt to Mount Sinai. On Passover the Israelites were given their freedom, on Shavuot they received the Torah.

Unlike most other Jewish holidays, Shavuot has no specific Torah commandments for celebrating other than the traditional festival observances.  However, because of its agricultural and spiritual significance, there are many traditions and customs surrounding the celebration of the holiday, like eating dairy and staying up all night to study Torah, a practice known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot.

Why dairy and why study Torah until sunrise, you ask? According to Midrash (ancient Biblical commentary), the Israelites went to bed early the night before receiving the Torah in order to be well-rested for the momentous day ahead, but then overslept and had to be woken by Moses. In order to atone for this national mistake, many Jews study Torah all night long, in symbolic anticipation for receiving the Torah on Shavuot day.

The tradition of dairy came from two sources; the first is that before receiving the Torah, the Israelites did not yet follow the laws of kasruth, so they celebrated with dairy foods the other reason is that King Solomon compares the Torah to milk in the Song of Songs: “Like honey and milk, it lies under your tongue”

A spring holiday, Shavuot is also associated with flowers and many families decorate their homes with greenery and fresh flowers.

So, enjoy your cheesecake or bourekas with fresh blooms this Shavuot as we celebrate this cheerful holiday that we hope will bring a smile to your face and lift up your spirits.