As hard as it is to believe, almost seven weeks – a whole 49 days! – have passed since Pesach and we are now getting ready to celebrate Shavuot.
Although the Torah does not give us any particular instructions concerning the celebration of Shavuot – other than the commandments that apply to all holidays – several customs have developed which make this day – or those 2 days, depending on where you are – very special.
Here are a few of these customs – and their possible variations:
– Decorate your house: in ancient days, Shavuot marked the end of the grain harvest in Israel and offerings were made at the Temple. It is also said that upon receiving the Torah the Israelites witnessed Mount Sinai miraculously covered with flowers. In commemoration of this connection with the beauty of nature, it is now customary to decorate our houses with greenery, garlands and baskets of flowers, etc. The fun part about this tradition is that you can easily turn the making of these decorations into a great bonding activity for families and friends.
– Stay up all night: it is said that, knowing they were about to receive the Torah, the Jews overslept and had to be awakened by G-d. In order to make amends, Jews around the world now devote the night of Shavuot to the study of Torah. This can be done in synagogue or other places and many people do it at home. Studying all night, however, may not be your favorite cup of tea. This should not keep you from doing something special to mark the occasion. Why not organize a slumber party? Invite friends or family and organize activities – such as cooking together or telling stories – in which everybody including children can participate.
– Cook a special meal: because the Jews did not eat kosher food before they were given the Torah, they had to cook dairy products while they were preparing their utensils for their new kosher life. This is why it is now customary to have at least one dairy meal on Shavuot. As always, Jewish cooks have come up with delicious recipes to celebrate the holiday. Anything made with cheese and cream can be served. Among the most popular are cheesecakes and the very many variations of blintzes.
– Read: special texts are read in synagogue on Shavuot: these include the book of Ruth and various poems. If you do not belong to a congregation or if you don’t have the possibility to go to your synagogue on the morning of Shavuot, you can still do the reading at home and share that moment with your family or friends. Even if you are not religious at all, try at least to inform yourself about the holiday and its origins. That is another way of keeping it alive.
Besides these customs, you can also think of personal ways to honor the spirit of Shavuot:
First, remember that what is celebrated is the “giving” of the Torah. Maybe you could honor that by giving time or money to a charitable cause.
Shavuot is also the commemoration of the birth of the Jewish people as a nation committed to accepting G-d and His laws. How about renewing your own commitments?
And last but certainly not least: do you know that the giving of the Torah has sometimes been compared to a wedding between God (the groom) and the Jewish people (the bride) with Moses acting as the matchmaker?
How about giving your own wedding some thought?