Who Needs Shavuot?
by Rabbi Rick Schechter It’s the black sheep of the Jewish calendar—unfortunately. Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, is a holy day often overshadowed and overlooked in the contemporary Jewish world. How could this have happened? It had such an auspicious start. The Torah considers Shavuot a major Jewish festival—right up there with Passover and Sukkot. In ancient times, it was thus distinguished as one of the three pilgrimage festivals in which all of Israel would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate. Even more so, after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E., the ancient rabbis renewed and deepened Shavuot’s meaning: it is not only a major spring harvest festival, it is the very anniversary of God’s revelation to the entire Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Shavuot commemorates the giving and receiving of the Torah, the Jewish people’s greatest treasure. What could be more important than that?!
So why isn’t Shavuot celebrated more widely today in America? The reasons are many. Always occurring in late May or early June, it has to contend with Memorial Day weekends and student graduations, finals, and absence from schools. If that weren’t enough of an uphill battle, Shavuot also has to vie for attention among a crowded Jewish holy day spring season—including many modern-day commemorations. Shavuot comes seven weeks after Passover, five weeks after Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), four weeks after Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) four weeks after Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), and one week after Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day, celebrating its reunification in 1967). It’s not easy being Shavuot. And then there’s the issue of Shavuot’s seeming twin: Simchat Torah. Every year, back in the fall, we’ve already rejoiced and danced with the Torah, celebrated its wisdom and message, and unrolled it for all to see. For all these reasons, what need then of Shavuot? The simple yet profound answer occurs in our Passover haggadah, when it says, “our freedom from slavery was not complete until we received the Torah, which gives our lives purpose and meaning.” In other words, Egypt leads to Sinai. Passover leads to Shavuot. Liberation leads to a life of Torah. We will always need Shavuot because it forever completes our spiritual journey and story. This year Shavuot occurs on Saturday night, May 26-Sunday, May 27. Chag Sameach!
Rabbi Rick Schechter is the rabbi at Temple Sinai of Glendale, CA. Originally posted at Rabbi Rick's Blog