Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

1. The significance of Shavou’ot (June 5, 2022)

Shavou’ot is one of the three Jewish liberty-oriented pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Passover, Shavou’ot and Tabernacles).

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Shavou’ot is celebrated 7 weeks following the second day of Passover. It is a historical, national, agricultural and spiritual extension of Passover. Passover highlights the physical liberty from slavery in Egypt, Shavou’ot highlights the spiritual liberty, embracing the values of the Ten Commandments and the Torah, in preparation for reentry to the Land of Israel.

Shavou’ot is also named the Holiday of the Harvest (ביכורים), since it concludes the harvesting season, which starts during Passover.

Shavou’ot (שבועות) means “weeks” in Hebrew and its spelling is identical to the Hebrew word “vows.”

Shavou’ot commemorates the 40 years of the Exodus, which entailed tough challenges on the way to the Land of Israel, forging the state-of-mind of the Jewish people and the Jewish State.  For example:

*Earning and sustaining liberty – which is a most critical value – requires the willingness to sustain tribulations (blood, sweat and tears);

*Walking against the grain and can-do mentality – no challenge is insurmountable when met by faith and principle-driven determination;

*The steeper the hurdle, the more critical the mission, the deeper the gratification;

*Adversities and challenges are opportunities in disguise.

2. The Scroll of Ruth (Honor thy mother in-law…)

Shavou’ot spotlights the Scroll of Ruth, the first of the five Biblical scrolls, which are studied during five Jewish holidays: Ruth (Shavou’ot), Song of Songs (Passover), Ecclesiastes (Sukkot/Tabernacles), Book of Lamentations (the Ninth day of Av), Esther (Purim). Ruth was a Moabite Princess, the great grandmother of King David, the son of Jesse and the grandson of Ovad, who was the son of Ruth.

Ruth was a role model of loyalty to her Jewish mother in-law (“Your people are my people and your G-d is my G-d”), humility, gratitude, responsibility, reliability, respect of fellow human beings, faith and optimism. According to the Bible, Ruth, the daughter-in-law, was better than seven sons. Ruth stuck by her mother-in-law, Naomi, during Naomi’s roughest time, when the latter lost her husband, Elimelech (a President of the Tribe of Judah), two sons and property. Just like Job, Naomi bounced back from the lowest ebb of ordeal to fulfilled hope.  Job and Naomi went through family, economic and social calamities, lost their spouses, children and financial assets; both retained confidence in G-d and reconstructed their families; both became symbols of conviction over convenience, faith-driven patience and endurance.

The legacy of Ruth reflects the central role played by Biblical women, joining the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel; Miriam, the older sister of Moses; Deborah the Prophetess, Judge and military leader; Hannah, the mother of Samuel the Prophet; Queen Esther, etc.

The geographic platform of the Scroll of Ruth was the Judean Desert, the cradle of Jewish history, religion, culture, language and ethnicity.

3. Impact on the formation of the US

The holiday of Shavou’ot (Pentecost) commemorates the legacy of Moses – the Exodus, the Ten Commandments and the Torah (the Five Books of Moses), which had a significant impact on the Early Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers, the formation of the US culture, civic life, the federal system, the US Revolution (as highlighted by Thomas Paine’s Common Sense), The Federalist Papers, the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, etc.

4The US Liberty Bell

Shavou’ot is the holiday of liberty/Exodus, as highlighted by the Biblical concept of Jubilee, the role model of Biblical liberty, which is celebrated every 50 years. The essence of the Jubilee is inscribed on the Liberty Bell: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus 25:10).”

The Liberty Bell was installed in Philadelphia in 1752, 50 years following William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, and eventually inspiring the 50 States in the union. According to the Biblical Jubilee all slaves must be released and land must be returned to the original proprietors (every 50 years). Shavou’ot is celebrated 50 days following Passover, and Pentecost – a derivative of the Greek word for 50 – is celebrated 50 days following Easter.  According to Judaism, there are 50 gates of wisdom, studied during the 50 days between Passover and Shavou’ot.

5. The centrality of humility

Shavou’ot highlights humility as a most critical value of human behavior and leadership. It is underlined by the receipt of the Torah, the Ten Commandments and the 613 statutes in the desert – an uncomfortable environment – on Mount Sinai, which is not an overpowering mountain.  Moses, the exceptional law-giver and civic and military leader, was accorded only one compliment in the entire Bible: “the humblest of all human beings.”

6. The Ethics of the Fathers  (Pirkey Avot in Hebrew)

It is customary to study – from Passover through Shavou’ot – the six brief chapters of The Ethics of the Fathers, one of the 63 tractates of the Mishnah (the Oral Torah) – a compilation of common sense principles, ethical and moral teachings, which underline key inter-personal relationships. For example:

“Who is respected? He who respects other persons!”“Who is a wise person? He who learns from all 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.”

7. Shavou’ot and the significance of 7

Shavou’ot reflects the centrality of 7 in Judaism. The Hebrew root of Shavou’ot (שבועות) is Seven (שבע – Sheva), which is also the root of “vow” (שבועה – Shvoua’), “satiation” (שובע – Sova) and “week” (שבוע – Shavoua’).  Shavou’ot is celebrated 7 weeks following Passover. The Sabbath was the 7th day of the Creation in a 7-day-week, and according to Genesis, there are beneficiaries of the Sabbath. The first Hebrew verse of Genesis consists of 7 words. God created 7 universes – the 7th universe hosts the pure souls, hence “the 7th Heaven.” There were 7 monumental Jewish leaders – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David, representing 7 key human qualities. There were 7 Jewish Prophetesses – Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chana, Abigail, Hulda and Esther. There are 7 major Jewish holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Tabernacles, Chanukah, Purim, Passover and Shavou’ot. There was a 7-day-recess between the Ten Plagues of Egypt. The ancient Jewish Temple had a 7-branch-Menorah (candelabra). There are 7 species of the Land of Israel – barley, wheat, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive and date/honey. The Jubilee follows a 7 seven-year-cycle.

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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.