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Counting Upward, The Spiritual Journey to Shavuot

Shavuot, a Jewish holiday that celebrates the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai, is around the corner but Jews have been diligently preparing for this moment since the second night of Passover.

The word Shavuot (or Shavuos) means “weeks,” and the Torah invites us on a seven-week, soul- searching journey known as Sefirat HaOmer–that’s when we count up to the days of Omer. This 49-day time period is meant to be a workout of the human psyche so that our soul is in better shape to receive the vast wisdom in the Torah that was entrusted to us by God. We count up–not down–because each day we ascend to a level higher of spiritual refinement, each day we take one step closer to becoming God’s chosen nation. Living in a Covid pandemic world right now, we are doing a lot of counting. We are counting 100,000 American lives lost to this virus that we didn’t even know existed a year ago. We count days in quarentine, days until another part of the economy reopens. During this time, more than anything,  we are reminded that  every day counts, every person counts, every act of kindness counts, every growing pain counts, and, every blessing counts.

Shavuot may not boast the fanfare of other major Jewish holidays, but most definitely deserves our attention. Shavuot is the second of three major Jewish pilgramage festivals that focus on historical and agricultral importance.  The other two are Passover and Sukkot. What makes Shavuot special is that this joyous holiday is as much about the journey to Mount Sinai as it is the destination or revelation itself. Much like a bride prepares months in advance for her upcoming nuptials, focusing on all the details involved in this important lifechanging milestone, Shavuot is a marriage between God and the Jewish people, and the Torah is our chuppa. Compared to other mountains that were much more majestic, bigger, wider, and more beautiful, Mount Sinai was chosen as the place to receive the Torah because it was plain, simple, small, and unpretentious compared to the rest of the land. Mount Sinai was a humble place, and teaches us that modesty and humility are the greatest virtues of all.

During this seven-week period leading up to Shavuot, we explore the seven basic emotions that make up the spectrum of human experience. That means each week leading up to Shavuot is an opportunity to refine these characeristics that make us more whole, holy.

The seven emotional attributes are:

  • Chesed – Loving-kindness
  • Gevurah — Justice and discipline
  • Tiferet – Harmony, compassion
  • Netzach – Endurance
  • Hod – Humility
  • Yesod – Bonding
  • Malchut – Sovereignty, leadership

We also read the Book of Ruth on the festival of Shavuot for several reasons. First, Ruth was the epitome of love and kindness, after all, an entire book in the Bible was named after her so this woman must be special. The Megillat Ruth (the Scroll of Ruth) depicts her generosity and special qualities, inspiring us to cultivate these virtues that lead to a personal and even national transformation.

The events in the Book of Ruth also take place during the summer harvest when “Weeks” is celebrated. Furthermore, Ruth is the ancestor of King David who, according to tradition, died on Shavuot. Finally, Ruth’s acceptance of Judaism corresponds with the Giving of the Torah in the desert to all of humanity. And this same loyality Ruth shows for the Torah is expected of all Jews. ’You can read more about Ruth HERE.

Like any Jewish holiday, food plays a major role. It’s tradition on Shavuot to serve yummy dairy dishes since the Jews were given the commandment of separating meat and milk on this day. From blintzes to cheesecake, Shavuot is a perfect time to try something new. And for a full menu of dairy delicacies including soups, salads, fish dishes, and desserts go HERE  and HERE! 

Finally, as we prepare for Shavuot 5780 and celebrate all the goodness that comes from this festival–learn new insights from Torah and Book of Ruth, decorate the home with beautiful flowers like the colorful abundance that bloomed on the humble Mount Sinai, and, of course splurge on delicious cheesecake and other goodies–we reexperience the moment 3,332 years ago that changed our destiny.

On Shavuot, on the sixth or seventh day of Sivan, Moses led three million Jewish people to the foot of Mount Sinai, not an easy feat, and after they prepared their body, mind, and souls to witness the power of God for themselves something unexpected happened. Midrash tells us that clouds billowed above, lightning, thunder, and even the sound of a shofar that echoed louder captured everyone’s attention in awe. We were given this gift of the Torah, the blueprint on how to live our lives and set a moral example for the rest of the world, and with that comes great responsibility. Our mission from God, was a call to action, for the Jewish nation to be “as one people, one heart.” This means unity without uniformity, learn to accept each other’s differences, and create a life with purpose based on Torah values. We strive each day to fulfill this mission, which can be challenging, but Shavuot is here to remind us why we are worth it.

Chag Shavuot Sameach!