Shavuot

The Book of Our Heritage : Shavuot

Laws, Customs, and Insights
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The following essay is excerpted from the 3 volume Book of Our Heritage , Hebrew original by Rabbi Eliyahu KiTov, English translation by Rabbi Nachmun Bulman. Published by Yad Eliyahu Kitov and Feldheim Publishers Jerualem. The books are available from Ben Arza Judaica Books POB 894 Jerusalem, Israel, Telephone 972-2-272795, Fax 972-2-274744, or your local Jewish bookseller. Used with permission. © by the Publishers. All Rights Reserved.

Customs of Shavuot

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The order of prayer and kidush is the same for Shavuot as for the Shalosh Regalim, (the three pilgrim-festivals), with specific reference made however, to 'this festival of Shavuot, the time of the giving of our Torah.' During musaf the 'additional-sacrificial-offerings' and the 'new-gift-offering' for Shavuot are mentioned as is the passage Uveyom Habikurim. Hallel is likewise said in whole, in accord with the practice followed during the Shalosh Regalim.

During the kiddush, shecheyanu is said. Women recite shecheyanu together with the brachah over the candles, prior to lighting them. Again in keeping with Yom Tov practice, it is obligatory to partake of two meals - to include meat and wine.

It is customary to practice immersion in a mikvah (ritual bath) on Erev Shavuot (the eve of Shavuot), for one is obliged to purify himself at the advent of a Yom Tov. There are some who practice immersion also on Yom Tov. There are some who practice immersion also on Yom Tov morning, in remembrance of Israel's purification during the 'days-of-abstinence,' prior to their receipt of the Torah.

Though it is generally customary to recite the ma'ariv prayers somewhat earlier than usual on Erev Yom Tov, the first night of Shavuot, however, ma'ariv is delayed till after the appearance of the stars. Seven whole weeks are to elapse counting from the second day of Pesach till the advent of Shavuot. And, if the sanctity of Yom Tov is 'accepted' before the forty ninth day is concluded, the days-of-the-counting will not have been whole. Similarly, the Shavuot kiddush is not recited till certain nightfall.

It is customary to decorate the synagogues and home with greens. And some decorate the Torah scrolls with roses. If the greens were not prepared before Shavuot, it is forbidden to use unprepared leaves - though they were cut before Shavuot - for decoration. If the greens were however prepared for the sake of the festival, but were not arranged out of forgetfulness, they may be arranged on Yom Tov.

There is a custom of placing tree branches and boughs about the 'bimah' (Synagogue pulpit) in the Synagogue, to recall that Shavuot is the time of judgment for the fruit of the trees, so that prayers might be uttered in their behalf. The Gaon of Vilna however, suspended this custom in many communities since it had become an established practice in gentile religious festival usage.

It is customary to remain awake through the night for study of Torah and the reading of the Tikun-for-the-Night-of-Shavuot.

Special care should be exercised not to slumber during the 'shacharit' prayers, the Torah reading, and especially during 'musaf', which 'seals' the Omer-period. (The reference is to the 'new-gift-offering' brought on Shavuot morning upon the termination of the Omer-count days).

Those who remain awake through the night wash their hands in the morning, but do not recite 'al netilat yadayim,' and 'Birkot Hashachar.' They are required only to hear these brachot recited by one who is obligated to say them, and to answer Amen.


Reasons for eating Milk foods on Shavuot

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  1. "Shavuot is an extension of Pesach and its conclusion. Just as we eat two cooked dishes on Pesach in memory of the Paschal-Lamb and the Chaggigah offering of Pesach, we likewise eat two cooked foods on Shavuot; one a milk dish, and the other a meat dish. Since one may not eat from the same loaf of bread with both meat and milk dishes, this custom is a memorial of the two breads brought on Shavuot" (Rabbi Moshe Isserles - Rama).
  2. 'The day when Moshe was drawn out of the water was the 6th of Sivan, and he was willing to be nursed only by a Hebrew woman. Therefore we recall this merit of his, through eating of milk foods on the same day' (Sefer Matamim).
  3. 'Till the giving of the Torah, the Jews were permitted to eat meat of animals which were not kosher as well as meat of animals that had not been slaughtered in accord with the laws of shechitah. After the giving of the Torah, shechitah and the laws of forbidden foods were prescribed for them. Since all their utensils and dishes thereby became prohibited and they were unable to make them kosher, they could only eat milk foods' (Ge'ulat Israel).
  4. 'The Numerical value of the Hebrew letters which constitute the Hebrew for Milk, chalav, add up to forty, corresponding to the forty days spent by Moshe on Mount Sinai' (Rabbi Shimshon of Ostropol).

Matan Torah -The Giving of the Torah

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The Children as Guarantors

At the time of the giving of the Torah all Israel guaranteed for each other. How? When G-d wished to give the Torah to Israel, He said to them: 'Give Me guarantors that you will observe the Torah.' Said they to Him: '"Are not the Patriarchs guarantors for us?' Said He: 'They are indebted to Me, would that they be able to stand for themselves.' The matter is likened to one who needs a loan. He was told: 'Bring a guarantor, and take as much as you wish.' Whereupon he went and brought someone who also was indebted to the lender. His would-be creditor then said: 'You have brought someone who is indebted to me. Would that he be able to stand for himself. Come and bring one who is not indebted to me.' Thus did G-d say to Israel: 'Have you brought Me the Patriarchs - who themselves owe me a variety of debts - as guarantors? Rather give Me guarantors who are not indebted ot Me. And who are those who are not indebted to me?' He said to them: 'The children.' They immediately brought Him the children ... G-d said to them: 'Do you stand as guarantors that if I give your parents the Torah, they will observe it; and if not, will you be responsible for them?' They answered, 'Yes!' said He, "I am the Lord your G-d.' They answered: 'Yes!...'

Why the Torah was Given in the Wilderness

'And they encamped in the wilderness' (Shmot 19). The Torah was given freely, publicly, in an ownerless place. For if it had been given in the Land of Israel, the nations of the world would say that they have no portion in it. Therefore, the Torah was given in this manner, so that whoever wishes to accept it may come and accept it.'

'If it had been given in the Land of Israel, the people of Israel would have said to the nations: 'You have no portion in it.' It was not given in the Land of Israel in order not to create dissension among the tribes.'

'And why was it given in the wilderness? Just as the wilderness is empty of all luxuries, likewise do the words of the Torah endure only with one who refrains from all luxuries.'

'I Am the Lord Your G-d'

Why were the Ten Commandments said in singular? To teach you that each and every Israelite should say: the Ten Commandments were given for my sake and I am obligated to fulfill them. And that one should not say, it is sufficient for the Torah to be fulfilled by others

'You Shall Have No Other gods'

Rabbi Eliezer said: 'Other gods' - they fashioned for themselves new gods daily. If one of them had a golden god and he needed the gold, he made himself a silver god. If he had a silver god and needed the silver he made one of copper. If he had a copper god, and needed the copper, he made one of iron and lead. And thus it is said, 'New gods that came up of late' (Dvarim 32).


Reading Ruth on Shavuot

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  1. 'Ruth is read Shavuot because the timing of its events occurred 'at the beginning of the barley harvest,' and this period is also the time of Shavuot' (Abudraham).
  2. 'The reading of Ruth on Shavuot is a reminder of the stand at Mt. Sinai, when the people of Israel received a total of six hundred and thirteen mitzvoth - six hundred and six mitzvoth in addition to the seven previous Noahide Laws. The numerical value of Hebrew letters which comprise the word Ruth is six hundred and six' (Teshu'ot Chen).
  3. 'From her very birth, Ruth was worthy of accepting upon herself the yoke of mitzvoth; and the very letters of her name bear witness to it. The letters for Ruth add up to six hundred and six which together with the seven Noahide Laws add up to six hundred and thirteen' (the Gaon of Vilna).
  4. 'Our fathers had the status of converts when they accepted the Torah (in order to enter the covenant they were required to undergo circumcision and immersion as is the case with converts). In honor of Ruth who was a convert and became the mother of Israel's royal family, we say, 'When we received the Torah, we were all converts' (Agan).
  5. 'Megilat Ruth was written by the Prophet Samuel, to indicate the genealogy of Kind David for Ruth the Moabite. We learn from the writing of this Megilah that there was Divine assent in the matter, for the end of the Megilah recounts David's ancestry and David was born on Shavuot and died on Shavuot' (Bechor Shor).
  6. The story of Ruth is read at the time of the giving of the Torah so that we might know that the written Torah and the Oral Torah, are together one Torah, and one is not Possible without the other. For David, the anointed of G-d unto all generations, was descended from a Moabite woman, and his legitimacy depended on the Oral Torah - which declared that only a Moabite man was prohibited from entering the fold of Israel - but not a Moabite woman. On the foundations of the House of David, the whole people of Israel is supported. All this could only come about through the authority of the Oral Torah.

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