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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 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.

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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