Festivals of the World is a series of articles highlighting the essence of each major religious festival celebrated in the world. We are pleased to share the essence of Shavuote, a Jewish festival of Harvest written by Rabbi David Hartley Mark on Jewish Festivals.
The Rabbi says, you can eat a Dairy Dish (Cheese Pastry is always in Good Taste) for Shavuote. As a token of building one world, this morning, I did my bit, I had a glass of milk since I am allergic to Cheese. We wish a very Happy Shavuote to our Jewish friends.
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Shavuote was originally a harvest feast thanking God for causing the earth to produce grain. Ancient Israel suffered from irregular rainfall, in contrast to Egypt, where the Nile River rose reliably to irrigate the Delta.
After the liberation drama of Passover and the leafy colors of autumnal Sukkot, Shavuote is relatively bare of symbolism. It commemorates the Giving of the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, on Mt. Sinai. Its principal message is that of Torah study—but that is a perpetual commandment, incumbent upon Jews the year round. There is little, therefore, to make Shavuote unique. Its focus is culinary rather than spiritual: Jews customarily eat dairy foods on this holiday, for various reasons. Studying Torah is compared to eating milk and honey, as the Hebrew Bible has it: “Honey and milk are under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11). Another reason is that Torah scholars are traditionally poor, and cannot afford to eat much meat; this is the only holiday on which we all get to “impersonate” Torah scholars, simply by eating dairy. Finally, we recall that when the Israelites were sojourning in the wilderness and received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, it included the laws for keeping kosher. The Israelites realized that their meat was not kosher, and so ate only dairy foods for a day while they slaughtered cattle in the kosher style and got fresh meat.
Reading the Biblical Book of Ruth is an important feature of this holiday. Its themes, those of tribal loyalty, the harvest, and romance, are all crucial to the Shavuote festival. Despite being a member of an enemy tribe, Moab, Ruth remains steadfast and stays with her beleaguered mother-in-law, Naomi, even after Ruth’s husband dies. The two bereft women return to Israel during the harvest season, and Ruth becomes a gleaner in the fields to gather food for herself and the hapless Naomi. There, she meets Boaz, a distant relative of Naomi’s, who later marries her. She is considered the first official Jew-by-choice, one of millions who have joined our people through the centuries and enriched us by their devotion. God rewards Ruth’s steadfastness by making her the great-grandmother of David, who becomes the mightiest king of Israel, and ancestor of Messiah.
Commemorating as it does the Giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai to the Israelites, and from them to the entire world, it is useful to remember its most basic law: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). The rabbis in the Talmud interpreted this to mean that, “If you do not know what hurts your neighbor, and do nothing to relieve their pain, how can you truly say you love them?” As Shavuote begins this Saturday night, May 23, let us begin the pursuit of peace in our own town, our own neighborhood, and in our hearts. Happy Shavuote to all!
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Rabbi David Hartley Mark, M.A., M.Phil., is a minister, teacher, writer, and public speaker. He was a fulltime pulpit rabbi for 35 years, serving pulpits in NJ, NC, and NH, and is currently rabbi at Temple Sholom in Pompano Beach, FL (congregation affiliation for identification purposes only), teaching college English during the week. He began his graduate studies in English by specializing in 17th Century English Literature, where theology, politics, and poetry interface, and currently takes a strong interest in how New England Puritanism metamorphosed into the strong influence of fundamentalism of all kinds in American Politics today. He has done interfaith work during all of his rabbinate, receiving a Seacoast NH Dr. Martin Luther King Award during his tenure there, and has spoken on both TV and radio. He blogs at http://deitychaser.blogspot.com, and writes short stories and poetry. He is married with two grown children, and lives in South Florida, which he loves for its cultural liveliness and diversity.