How we wish we could go back in time and stand at Sinai – to experience those three days of excited preparation, the sounds and the lightening, the heavy cloud, the loud blow of the shofar, the smoking mountain, God in the descending fire, Moses and God speaking to one another. If we could only, even for a brief moment, hear the voice of God, Master of the Universe, our Father, speaking to us to say: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt from the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”[note]Exodus 22.[/note] We yearn to merit the experience of receiving the Torah at Sinai directly from God: “Not through an angel, not through a seraph and not through a messenger. The Holy One, blessed be He, did it in His glory by Himself!”[note]Pesach Haggadah.[/note]
“And all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw they fell back and stood at a distance. “You speak to us,” they said to Moses, “and we will obey; but let not God speak to us lest we die.” (Exodus 20:15-16).[note]I am indebted to three important discussions of revelation which have informed my understanding of the topic: Benjamin D. Sommer, “Revelation at Sinai in the Hebrew Bible and in Jewish Theology”, Journal of Religion 79 (1999):422-451; Yohanan Silman, Qol Gadol Velo Yasaf, Jerusalem, 1999; Moshe Halbertal,People of the Book, Cambridge, 1997.[/note]
The Torah reading for Shavuot is the Ten Commandments. This is based on the opinion of one of the Tannaim (early Sages) found in three places in rabbinic literature (Tosefta Megillah 3:5, ed. Lieberman p. 354; Yerushalmi Megillah 3:7, fol. 74b; and Bavli Megillah 31a). This is, without a doubt, the result of the rabbinic belief that the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai on Shavuot (Shabbat 86b).[note]Regarding the trasformation of Shavuot from an agricultural festival (Yom Habikkurim) to The Time of the Giving of our Torah (Zeman Mattan Toratenu), see Encyclopaedia Judaica [hereafter: EJ], Vol. 14, cols. 1320-1321, s.v. Shavuot.
Is there an alternative to reciting the Aramaic poemAkdamut on Shavuot?
Megillat [the scroll of] Ruth, traditionally read on Shavu’ot, tells the story of Naomi, her husband Elimelekh and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilyion. They moved to Moav because of the famine in Beit Lehem Yehuda. There, the sons married Moabites.
It is customary not to get married and not to shave or cut one’s hair between Pesah and Lag Ba’omer or Pesah and Shavuot. Why do we mourn during the period of Sefirat Ha’omer (the counting of the omer )? Is there any point in maintaining these mourning customs today?
The story of the revelation and lawgiving at Mount Sinai is clearly one of the dramatic high points in the narrative of the Torah. The centrality of this event for Israel’s faith is forcefully presented in Deuteronomy iv, 9-10. Moses warns the Israelites that they dare not forget how the Lord spoke to them out of the fire that burned from the top of the mountain into the heart of the heavens. This central, terrifying event must be remembered and recounted to each new generation so that they may fear the Lord and observe the commandments that He personally imposed upon them.
The holiday of Shavuot, which we celebrate this week, did not receive much attention in rabbinic literature. There is no tractate about it in the Mishnah or Talmud and all of its laws are contained in one paragraph in the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 494). Even so, a number of beautiful customs are associated with Shavuot and here we shall discuss one of them.