June 6, 2019
The many meanings of the festival of Shavuot
The festival of Shavuot begins at sundown this Saturday, 8 June, and ends at sundown on Monday 10 June. Whilst a short festival, Shavuot has many names and interesting meanings.
Shavuot, literally translated as the festival of weeks, gets its name as it is celebrated exactly seven weeks after the second Passover meal, where the exodus from Egypt is recounted. It is believed that Moses received the Ten Commandments and the Torah seven weeks after the Jewish people left Egypt. It is for this reason that many also refer to Shavuot by the name Z’man Matan Torateinu, the season of the giving of the Torah.
To celebrate the receiving of the Torah, it is customary to stay up all night studying the Jewish texts to connect with the pivotal moment at Mount Sinai and to remember the responsibilities and challenges associated with becoming the Jewish people.
However, this reference to weeks and receiving the texts that are pivotal to Jewish way of life, is just one of the meanings of this festival.
In fact, in biblical times, Shavuot was celebrated as an agricultural festival. So we also know the festival as as day of the first fruits, and festival of the harvest. This time marked the spring season and the harvesting of the first barley crop, which occurs seven weeks from the planting of the barley seeds.
Image: Velvet Torah mantle, circa 1880 from Champagne, France. SJM Collection.