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October 7, 2015 / 24 Tishri, 5776
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The Deeper Meanings of Shavuot

Shavuot reflects the centrality of 'seven' in Judaism.


6.  Shavuot highlights the eternity of the Jewish People. Thus, the first and the last Hebrew letters of Shavuot (שבועות) constitute the Hebrew name of the third – and righteous – son of Adam & Eve, Seth (שת). The Hebrew meaning of Seth – שת – is “to institute” and “to bestow upon” (Matan-מתן  in Hebrew).  The Hebrew word for the bestowing of the Torah at Mt. Sinai is Matan Torah (מתן תורה).

7. Shavuot (שבועות) is a derivative of the Hebrew word “Shvuah’” (שבועה) – vow, referring to the exchange of vows between God and the Jewish People.  The origin of Shavuot occurred 26 generations following Adam and Eve. The Hebrew word for Jehovah equals 26 in gimatriya (assignment of numerical values to Hebrew letters). There are 26 Hebrew letters in the names of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs: Abraham (אברהם), Yitzhak (יצחק), Yaakov (יעקב) Sarah (שרה), Rivka (רבקה), Rachel (רחל) and Leah (לאה).

8.  Shavuot highlights the Scroll of Ruth, who lived 3 generations before King David, son of Jesse, grandson of Ovad, the son of Ruth. The Scroll of Ruth is the first of the five Biblical scrolls, which are studied during five holidays: Ruth (Shavuot), Song of Songs (Passover), Ecclesiastes (Sukkot), Book of Lamentations (Ninth of Av), Esther (Purim).Ruth – a Moabite Princess and a role model of loyalty (“Your people are my people and your God is my God”) and gratitude – stuck by her mother-in-law, Naomi, who lost her husband, Elimelech (President of the Tribe of Judah) and two sons.  Naomi went through family, economic and social calamities, similar to those experienced by Job: both lost their close-ones and financial assets; both complained to God; both preserved confidence in God and reconstructed their families; both were role-model of faith-driven tenacity.  Naomi’s suffering constituted a punishment for emigrating from the Land of Israel upon difficult times.  Leaders do not desert their people when the going gets rough!  Ruth’s Legacy: Respect thy mother in-law (!), be driven by conviction over convenience be cognizant of the central role played by women from Sarah, through Ruth, until today.  The total sum of the Hebrew letters of Ruth (רות) – in Gimatriya – is 606, the number of laws granted at Mt. Sinai, which together with the 7 laws of Noah form the 613 Laws of Moses.  According to the scroll, “Ruth [the daughter-in-law] was better than 7 sons.”

The Scroll of Ruth highlights the Judean Desert and Bethlehem as the Cradle of the House of David and Jewish history – not “occupied territory.”

9.  Shavuot is the day of birth/death of King David (as well as the day that Moses was saved by Pharaoh’s daughter), the great-grandson of Ruthwho united the Jewish People, elevating them to a most powerful position. The David-Torah linkage demonstrates that physical and spiritual leadership are mutually-inclusive, as long as governments are driven by values. According to Deuteronomy (17: 18-20), the king must write his own Torah scroll, in order to refine his character, gain knowledge and absorb leadership qualities, mostly humility. In contrast with King Saul, King David assumed responsibility and accountability for his sins. He didn’t just talk the talk; he walked the walk! 150 candles are lit at King David’s tomb on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, consistent with the 150 chapters of Psalms mostly attributed to David. Number 150 is the numerical value of Nest (קן), the warm environment of the Torah. David’s personal history (from shepherd to king) – and Jewish history – provides a lesson for individuals and nations: Despair is not an option and every problem is an opportunity in disguise (from slavery in Egypt to the sublime deliverance at Mt. Sinai and then in the Land of Israel).

10.  The two portions of the Torah, which are recited/studied around Shavuot, are נשא and בהעלותך, which mean – in Hebrew – spiritual enhancement and elevation. נשא is the longest portion of the Torah (176 verses), highlighting the inauguration of the ancient tabernacle and altar.  בהעלותך highlights the Menorah (Candelabrum) of the ancient tabernacle, which had seven branches, similar to the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot.

11.  Dairy dishes consumed during Shavuot, commemorate divine providence. According to the Kabbalah (Jewish mystical school of thoughts), milk represents divine quality. Babies – a divine creation – are breast fed by mothers.  Dairy dishes commemorate the most common (humble) food – of shepherds like King David – during the 40 years in the desert, on the way to the Land of Milk and Honey, the Land of Israel.  Unlike wine, milk is poured into simple glasses.  The total sum of milk (חלב) is 40 in Gimatriya, which is equal to the 40 days and nights spent by Moses on Mt. Sinai and the 40 years spent by the Jewish People in the Desert. 40 is also the value of the first Hebrew letter (מ) of key Exodus-Terms: Moses (משה), Miriam (מרים), Manna (מן), Egypt (מצרים), Desert (מדבר), Menorah (מנורה), Tabernacle (משכן), Mitzvah-Commandment (מצווה), etc.  40 generations passed from Moses – who delivered the “Written Torah” – to Rabbi Ashi and Rabbi Rabina, who concluded the editing of the Talmud, the “Oral Torah.” The first and the last letters in the Talmud is the Hebrew “מ”, which equals 40 in Gimatriya.

About the Author: Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is consultant to Israel’s Cabinet members and Israeli legislators, and lecturer in the U.S., Canada and Israel on Israel’s unique contributions to American interests, the foundations of U.S.-Israel relations, the Iranian threat, and Jewish-Arab issues.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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