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Shavou’ot (Pentecost) Guide for the Perplexed, 2014

Prime Minister Netanyahu receives baskets of first fruits from children in his office in Jerusalem, May 12, 2013.

Prime Minister Netanyahu receives baskets of first fruits from children in his office in Jerusalem, May 12, 2013.
Photo Credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90

1. It has been customary to pave the road to Shavou’ot – from Passover – by studying the six chapters of The Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkey Avot in Hebrew) which is one of the 63 tractates of the Mishnah (the Oral Torah) – a compilation of common sense principles, ethical and moral teachings and underlying inter-personal relationships.

For example: *”Who is respected? He who respects other persons!” *”Who is a wise person? He who listens to other persons!” *”Who is wealthy? He who is satisfied with his own share!” *”Who is a hero? He who controls his urge!” *”Talk sparsely and walk plenty;” *”If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” *”Don’t be consumed with the flask, but with its content.” *Conditional love is tenuous; unconditional love is eternal.” *”Treat every person politely.” *”Jealousy, lust and the obsession with fame warp one’s mind.”

Thus, the 49 days between Passover and Shavou’ot are dedicated to enhancing one’s behavior, following in the footsteps of the Jews, who forged/enhanced their own national character during the 40 years from the Exodus until their return to the Land of Israel.

2.  Shavou’ot commemorates the receipt of the Torah, and its 613 statutes – an annual reminder of critical values which shape faith and human relationships. The Torah was received in the desert, on Mount Sinai which is not a dominating mountain, highlighting humility/modesty, the most critical values of human relationships and leadership.  Humility/modesty characterized Moses, the exceptional law-giver and leader, who earned only one compliment by the Torah: “the humblest of all human beings.” Abraham (אברהם), King David (דוד) and Moses (משה) are role models of humility. Their Hebrew acronym (Adam – אדמ) means “human-being,” and is the root of the Hebrew word for “soil” (אדמה).

3.  Shavou’ot reflects the 3,500 year old trilateral linkage between the Land of Israel (pursued by Abraham), the Torah of Israel (transmitted through Moses) and the People of Israel (united by David). According to King Solomon, “the triangular cord cannot be broken!”  The Torah of Israel forged and enhanced the character of the People of Israel, and both have been nurtured by the Land of Israel – a unique territorial/spiritual platform. Shavou’ot – a spiritual holiday – follows Passover – a national liberation holiday: from the liberation of the People of Israel (the Exodus) to their spiritual liberation/enhancement through the Torah or Israel, in preparation for the return to the Land of Israel.

Shavou’ot is celebrated by decorating homes and synagogues/temples with Land of Israel-related crops and flowers.

4.  Shavou’ot (Pentecost) was, originally, an agricultural holiday, celebrating the first harvest/fruit by bringing offerings (Bikkurim-ביכורים) to the Temple in JerusalemFollowing the destruction of the second Temple and the exile in 70 AD - which intensified the need to entrench Torah awareness in order to avoid spiritual and physical oblivion – Shavou’ot became a Torah-driven historical/religious holiday.

5. Shavou’ot – which is celebrated on the 50th day following Passover –  has 7 names: The holiday of the fiftieth ((חמישים, יובל, the holiday of the harvest (קציר), the holiday of the giving of the Torah (מתן תורה), Shavou’ot (שבועות), the holiday of the offerings (ביכורים), the rally (עצרת) and the assembly (הקהל). The Hebrew acronym of the seven names is “The Constitution of the Seven” – חקת שבעה

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.


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