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Yoram Ettinger: Shavuot Guide for the Perplexed

President Peres at a celebration in honor of Shavuot

Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90

Shavuot is the holiday of the Torah, which impacted the US Constitution in particular and the state of Western morality, liberty, and democracy in general. Shavuot is celebrated by decorating homes and houses of worship with Land of Israel-related fruit, vegetables, herb and flowers, demonstrating the indigenous connection between the Torah of Israel, the People of Israel, and the Land of Israel.

Shavuot – a spiritual holiday – follows Passover – a national liberation holiday: from physical liberation (the Exodus) to spiritual liberation/enhancement.

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 day week and the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot.

Shavuot is celebrated 50 days following Passover. The Jubilee – the cornerstone of liberty and the source of the inscription on the Liberty Bell (Leviticus 25:10) – is celebrated every 50 years. Judaism highlights the constant challenge facing human beings: the choice between the 50 gates of wisdom and the corresponding 50 gates of impurity. Egypt represented the gates of impurity and the receipt of the Torah represented the gates of wisdom. The 50th gate of wisdom is the gate of deliverance. The USA is composed of 50 states.

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 son of Adam & Eve, Seth (שת), the righteous ancestor of Noah, hence of all mankind. The Hebrew meaning of Seth – שת – is “to institute” and “to bestow upon”, מתן in Hebrew – the Hebrew word for the bestowing of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (מתן תורה).

Shavuot (שבועות) is a derivative of the Hebrew word “Shvoua’” (שבועה) – vow, referring to the exchange of vows between God and the Jewish People. The origin of Shavuot occured 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).

The Hebrew root of Shavuot is the word Seven – “Sheva” (שבע). Shavuot is celebrated 7 weeks following Passover; God employed 7 earthly attributes to create the universe (in addition to the 3 divine attributes); There are 7 basic human traits, which individuals are supposed to resurrect/adopt in preparation for Shavuot; 7 key Jewish/universal leaders – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aharon, Joseph and David – represent the seven qualities of the Torah and the wholesomeness of Judaism and the Land of Israel; 7 days of Creation and a 7 days in a week; The Sabbath is the 7th day; The first Hebrew verse in Genesis consists of 7 words; There are 7 species of the Land of Israel (barley, wheat, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive and date/honey); 7 represents multiplication – שבעתיים – “Sivatayim”; There are 7 directions (north, south, west, east, up, down, one’s own position); 7 gates to The Temple in Jerusalem; 7 Noahide Commandments; Moses’ birth/death was on the 7th day of Adar; Jethro had 7 names and 7 daughters; Passover and Sukkot (Tabernacles) last for 7 days each; each Plague lasted for 7 days; the Menorah has 7 branches; Jubilee follows seven 7-year cycles; according to Judaism, slaves are liberated, and the soil is not-cultivated, in the 7th year; there are 7 continents in the globe and 7 notes in a musical scale; there are 7 days of mourning over the deceased, 7 blessings in a Jewish wedding, 7 congregants read the Torah on each Sabbath and 7 Jewish Prophetesses (Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chana, Abigail, Choulda and Esther). Pentecost is celebrated, by Christians, on the 7th Sunday after Easter.

Shavuot is the second of the 3 Jewish Pilgrimages (Sukkot-Tabernacles, Passover and Shavuot), celebrated on the 6th day of the 3rd Jewish month, Sivan. It highlights Jewish Unity, compared by King Solomon to “a three folds cord, which is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). The Torah – the first of the 3 parts of the Jewish Bible – was granted to the Jewish People (which consists of 3 components: Priests, Levites and Israel), by Moses (the youngest of 3 children, brother of Aharon and Miriam), a successor to the 3 Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and to Seth, the 3rd son of Adam and Eve. The Torah was forged in 3 manners: Fire (commitment to principles), Water (lucidity and purity) and Desert (humility and principle-driven tenacity). The Torah is one of the 3 global pillars, along with labor and gratitude/charity. The Torah is one of the 3 pillars of Judaism, along with the Jewish People and the Land of Israel.

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 and gratitude – stuck by her mother-in-law, Naomi, who lost her husband (president of the Tribe of Judah) and two sons, in spite of Naomi’s Job-like disastrous times, financially and socially. Naomi’s suffering constituted a punishment for the desertion of the people of Israel (emigration to Moab) during a most difficult draught. Leaders do not desert their people when the going gets rough! Ruth’s Legacy: Respect thy mother in-law(!) and be motivated by conviction over convenience. The total sum of the Hebrew letters of Ruth (רות) – in Gimatriya – yield the number of laws granted at Mt. Sinai (606), which together with the 7 laws of Noah total the 613 Laws of Moses.

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

Shavuot sheds light on the unique covenant between the Jewish State and the USA – Judeo-Christian Values, which are based on the Ten Commandments. These values impacted the world view of the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers and the US Constitution, Bill of Rights, Separation of Powers, Checks & Balances, etc. John Locke wanted the “613 Laws of Moses” to become the legal foundation of the new society established in America. Lincoln’s famous 1863 quote paraphrased the 14th century John Wycliffe’s dedication to his English translation of the Bible: “a book of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Shavuot is the day of birth and death of King David (as well as the day that Moses was saved by Pharaoh’s daughter), who united the Jewish People, elevating them to a most powerful position. David – along with Moses and Abraham – was a role model of humility and repentance, hence the Hebrew acronym of Adam (אדם- human being in Hebrew): Abraham (אברהם), David (דוד) and Moses (משה). 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, highlighted by the Exodus – provides a lesson for individuals and nations: 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); human beings are fallible but they must recognize their own fallibility, as a springboard toward improvement.

Shavuot is the holiday of humility! The Torah was granted on the small, modest Mt. Sinai – to a small people – in the unattractive desert. The Torah was delivered by Moses, “the humblest/meekest of all human beings.” The content of the Torah doesn’t require an impressive stage. Humility constitutes a prerequisite for studying the Torah and for constructive human relationships and leadership.

Dairy dishes are consumed during Shavou’ot, commemorating divine providence. According to the Kabbalah (Jewish mystical school of thoughts), milk represents divine quality. Babies – 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.

Originally published at http://www.theettingerreport.com/Jewish-Holidays/Shavou%E2%80%99ot-%28Pentecost%29-Guide-for-the-Perplexed-%281%29.aspx

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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