Where is the section called “Hilchot Shavuot” in the Shulchan Aruch? Actually, there is no section called Hilchot Shavuot because Shavuot does not have its own section in the Shulchan Aruch.
Instead, the last chapter of Hilchot Pesach is called “Seder Tefillat Chag HaShavuot” and it contains just three short sentences. The Shulchan Aruch simply lists the order of davening for Shavuot, the Torah portions that are read, and the prohibition of fasting on the Yom Tov.
What stands out is the lack of any specific halachot for Shavuot. There is no matzah, no sitting in a sukkah, no shaking a lulav, and no blowing of the shofar.
There is nothing that marks Shavuot as a unique Yom Tov from the halachic prospective of the Shulchan Aruch. The Rama adds some Shavuot customs but not halachot. The customs he mentions are putting out plants in shuls and houses and eating dairy foods.
Even staying up all night on Shavuot is only a custom, not halacha.
It’s a seemingly odd situation. Even the shtei halechem and bikurim were brought only during the time of the Beit HaMikdash.
So we are left with the phenomenon of a festival that is heavy on minhagim but light on halachic imperatives, making this Yom Tov different from all others,
The Talmud (Pesachim 68), in discussing the best way to celebrate the festivals, relates a dispute between R’ Eliezer and R’ Yehoshua.
R’ Eliezer says Yom Tov should be spent either kulo laHashem – entirely praying to God and learning Torah –or kulo lachem – entirely as a day of eating and drinking and other physical enjoyment.
R’ Yehoshua says the festivals should be divided in half, chetzyo laHashem and chetzyo lachem – half for God and half for us.
But even R’ Eliezer agrees that Shavuot must also include physical enjoyment through feasting, because it is the day on which God gave us the Torah.
Rashi explains that we need to show we are still joyful about accepting the Torah and therefore we need to celebrate in a physical manner. Shavuot cannot be only a day of ritual halachic structure; in order for us to demonstrate our joy and happiness at accepting the Torah, Shavuot must include our human input.
Our physical and human enjoyment of Shavuot is described in the Talmud as involving eating and drinking. Of course, over the generations Jews have added various customs to the celebration of Shavuot, but food and drink remain the central focus of our minhagim.
To show our joy in accepting the Torah anew every year, we imbue this festival with delicious new meaning, such as eating cheesecake, cheese blintzes (my favorite), and decorating our synagogues and homes with flowers.
This is how we demonstrate our love for the Yom Tov that celebrates the great gift God gave us when He entrusted us with His holy Torah.Rabbi Ephraim S. Sprecher