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Shavuot: “We Are One Person, One Heart”

While sirens wail, rockets fall from the sky, and Israelis hunker down in bomb shelters, also called safe rooms, or “”miklat” in Hebrew, and the world is quick to place blame on one side or the other, a Jewish holiday of Shavuot is coming up– because nothing deters the Jewish people from their steadfast faith in God perhaps even more so in times of crisis. When Israel is under attack, a fire is lit deep inside us, a strength, a calling to come together in prayer and in action of mitzvot helping one another.
Shavuot is the holiday that commemorates when the Jewish nation stood as one at Mount Sinai and received the Torah. We first received the ten commandments (The Luchot), a microcosm of the Torah, and then slowly Moses taught us the lessons inside bit by bit, and we are still learning every day. For the Jewish people, the Torah is a blueprint for living in and provides insight into every aspect of modern life—ideals, ethics, values, laws, our history. Shavuot marks a moment in Jewish history as the single most important event because on this day we were unified as the Jewish nation and solidified as the chosen people.

Shavuot is one of the three biblically based pilgrimage festivals in the Jewish calendar known as the shalosh regalim. It is associated with the grain harvest in the Torah. The first is holiday Passover, then Shavuot, and the third is Sukkot. These three holidays are the ones that we celebrate as if we are in Jerusalem as one nation at the Temple (Beit Ha’mikdash), and indeed our hearts are in Israel as we pray for the peace and safety of our brothers and sisters.
Literally translated, “Shavuot” means “weeks”, because we are actually celebrating the culmination of the seven weeks leading up to Shavuot. This seven- week period is known as the Counting of the Omer, and we prepared ourselves for 49 days to learn and grow and make ourselves spiritually fit to receive the Torah. Why 49 days? Because it took It took Moses and the Israelites seven weeks of trekking through the desert to reach Mount Sinai. It’s like you can’t finish a marathon without training in advance, the hard work of running, stretching, and getting in shape makes crossing the finish line more attainable and that more joyful, same with leading up to Shavuot and the prize is winning the Torah.
We are the only religion in the world that begins with a claim that we all witnessed the founding story of our religion 3,300 years ago. We pass this story down from generation to generation, without a single gap in all history.
Like many Jewish holidays, food plays a key role in the celebration. On Shavuot, it is customary to eat dairy, like cheesecake, blintz, and kugles. There are several reasons why we eat dairy. One is that when we received the Torah on Sinai, we did not learn the kosher rules yet and know how to properly prepare meat. Another reason which I find beautiful is that Torah is likened to milk, as the verse says, “Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11). Just as milk has the ability to fully sustain the body of a human being as in nursing a baby, the Torah provides all the “spiritual nourishment” necessary for the human soul.
Popular Shavuot foods include cheesecake, blintzes, and kugels. Some Sephardic Jews make a seven-layered bread called siete cielos (seven heavens), which is supposed to represent Mt. Sinai. Lot of Shavuot recipe ideas here: https://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/recipes/shavuot/
Another custom on Shavuot is to stay awake the whole first night of Shavuot and study the Torah until the crack of dawn for morning prayers. It’s not like cramming for finals, it’s an indulgence in studying something you love and can’t get enough of, especially when sharing with other people who feel the same way.
The Midrash gives a historic basis for the custom to learn all night: On the morning that the Jewish people received the Torah at Mount Sinai, they overslept and they weren’t fully prepared for this awesome gift of wisdom that is Torah.
In a sense, we too are asleep. First Covid, then the Meron tragedy, and now rockets rain down across the land and Hamas is once again using the Palestinians as human shields. In the Diaspora, people are misinformed and spread hatred of Israel when they don’t take the time to seek the truth and history of our people.
Do we care? Are we apathetic and oblivious to what is happening so far away in the Middle East? Are we doing anything to help and increase our knowledge and understanding? Why are we here? “Do not stand on your brother’s blood,” the Torah tells us.
And so, on the night of Shavuot, we pull an all-nighter and awaken the soul by studying the Torah, the Jewish national guidebook. By doing so, we make a commitment to be more “awake” to the crisis in Israel and what is going on in the Jewish world. On Shavuot, we stood as one at the foot of Sinai, and today we must stand in solidarity with the Jewish nation more than ever. Only then, we will be “as one person with one heart.”
Shabbat Shalom and “Chag Sameach!” (Happy Holiday).