שבועות Shavuot (meaning Weeks) originated as a harvest festival in the Torah and morphed (by rabbinical device) into a holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai.
On the second day of Pesach/Passover we begin Sefirat Ha-omer, (The Counting the Omer) — a 49 day (seven week) count down that ends on Shavuot, the 50th day.
Pesach was the time of the barley harvest and Shavuot was the time of the wheat (grain) harvest. The last day of each holiday marked the end of the harvesting cycle. The “first fruits and grain” (bikkurim) were also harvested on Shavuot and brought to the Temple.
Shavuot and Sukkot share common ground as the two harvest festivals, but only Sukkot retained its original flavor.
In the Torah, Shavuot is called by three names: 1) Chag Hakatzir / The Holiday of Reaping. 2) Yom Ha-bikkurim / The Day of First Fruits. 3) Chag HaShavuot / The Holiday of Weeks. [Shemot/Exodus 23:16, Bamidbar/Numbers 28:26]
How did it shift from a Harvest Festival in the Torah to something called Tikkun Leil Shavuot? Kabbalists developed the practice of Tikkun Leil Shavuot in the 16th century — consisting of all night Torah study to commemorate “Zman Matan Torateinu,” (the Time of the Giving of Our Torah).
Why is the term “giving of the Torah” traditionally favored over “receiving of the Torah?” What’s the difference between “giving of” and “receiving of?” Moses received it, then gave it to us. After the giving, it was up to us to receive it. You can be given a gift but not receive it. Interesting food for thought!
What happens on Tikkun Leil Shavuot? Food, coffee, water and beverages are provided for participants studying all night or any portion thereof. The Mekubalim (Kabbalists) believed the heavens opened at midnight for those who were awake. Personally, I need to be home by midnight before I turn into a pumpkin.
What are some of the Tikkun Leil Shavuot minhagim (customs)? At sunrise: Praying, meditating and immersion in a mikvah. For those who celebrate a second night: Reciting Psalms by King David, for it’s said that he was born and died on Shavuot. In Israel, Shavuot is only a one day (24 hour) holiday. Reform Judaism follows the Israeli minhag (custom).
In addition to classes, The Book of Ruth is read to honor her dedication to her mother-in-law and the Torah, around the time of the Shavuot harvest festival. (Stay tuned for my modern midrash on Ruth).
In Sephardic and Mizrachi custom, you’ll find a spread of savory vegetable pastries, enchusa de espinaka, fresh baked challah, huevos haminados, fresh fruit and sutlach — a creamy Turkish rice pudding.
Why the sweet dairy foods? In the Torah, Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) is described as “zavat halav u’d’vash” זבת חלב ודבש “flowing with milk and honey.”
Why is the Kabbalistic/rabbinical reinvention of Shavuot called Tikkun Leil Shavuot? תקון ליל שבועות — Leil is an abbreviated form of leilah (night) and Tikkun means repair.
What are we repairing? The ancient Israelites are said to have overslept on the morning the Torah was given (that always tickles me), so we study Torah all night as an act of “tikkun” (repair). I get a kick out of imagining them sleeping through their rooster alarm clocks and being late for the BIG BOSS’s tour de force. I picture Mr Slate from the quarry (as GD) yelling at Fred. (Flintstones 23:3). 😄
What is the appropriate greeting? “Chag Sameach” in Hebrew (Happy Holiday) or “Gut/Good Yomtov” in Yiddish — the standard Jewish Holiday greetings.
In the Chasidic community you will hear, “Kabbalat haTorah b’simcha u’pnimiyout,” meaning, “You should receive the Torah in Joy and in a way that speaks to your innermost self.”
Did you know you were there at the original Giving of the Torah, thousands of years ago? Midrash teaches that every Jewish soul yet to be born was present at the foot of Mt. Sinai when the Torah was given. Now, what I want to know is, were you behaving yourself or partying with the golden calf?
Next up: Shavuot, First Edition.
©️ 2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED – Chochmat Halev (wisdom of the heart) is my ner tamid (eternal light).