Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) begins next Tuesday 22 May through 24 May. At Passover, the Jewish people were freed from being slaves to Pharaoh; 50 days later, at Shavuot they accepted the Torah and became a nation committed to serving God. For those who like to tie religious holidays to the cycles of Nature, the period between Passover and Shavuot is the 7 weeks of the spring grain harvest which begins with the harvesting of barley during Passover and ends with the harvesting of wheat at Shavuot. Similarly, the eighth day of Sukkot, or Tabernacles, is the festival of the fruit harvest.
In the Sinai Peninsula there is a small mountain the Bedouins call Jabal Musa, or the Mountain of Moses, and which we call Mount Sinai. It was here 3,320 years ago (1313 B.C.) that the Creator of the Universe met with the entire Jewish nation and declared them as His Chosen People. You may wonder why I say that God met "with the entire Jewish nation" when everyone recalls that Moses had to put a fence around Mount Sinai so that only he, Moses, could meet directly with God. Let me explain.
First, let's reread Exodus 19:1-2:
In the third month of the Children of Israel's exodus from the land of Egypt, on that day, they arrived in the Sinai desert. They journeyed from Rephidim and came to the Sinai desert, and camped in the desert; and Israel camped there, before the mountain.
Unfortunately English lacks a number declension for the past tense of camp. Those familiar with Hebrew will scan the text to read: "Vayichan sham Yisroel neged hahar." And he, Israel, camped there across from the mountain. Vayichan is the singular for "and he camped". Rashi in his commentary on this verse noted the grammatically incorrect use of the singular vayichan (and he camped) instead of vayachanu (and they camped) in speaking of the entire Jewish nation. Rashi explained that the use of the singular was to show that they camped as a single man, with a single desire, unlike all other encampments where the people were quarrelsome and contentious.
The Most Important Of All The Jewish Holidays
When I was in Israel (1965-1967) I recall reading that Shavuot was the most important of all the Jewish Holidays, for without the giving of the Torah, there would be no Jewish nation and no Jews today. Bringing that to mind today my grey cells roiled with the thought of a world without Einstein, Freud, Marx, and even Jesus. Yes, without Jews there could not have been a Roman-controlled Judea, without which there would not have been a need for a Messiah , without which...
Of course, the world is the way it is precisely because the Jews accepted the Torah. Indeed, Rashi stated if Jews had not accepted the Torah on Shavuot, the whole world would have ceased to exist. So the next time you hear a Muslim say the Jews must be destroyed, remind him that without Jews there would never have been Islam, for who would have carried the story of Abraham to Mohammed?
In a future post I will blog about the 13 possible locations for Mount Sinai since there seems to be much dispute of the matter. Of course, modern archaeological work in the Sinai could help ravel the mystery but the Jew-hating state of Egypt closely guards and denies access to locations which may be related to Biblical history. Bastards.
Many Jews eat cheese blintzes and cheese cakes for Shavuot; for a full and fascinating explanation of why read:
Festival of Cheese
The presence of so many explanations for a single custom may be a testament to the endless creativity of the Jewish people, but it also draws attention to the fact that no one of these explanations is particularly convincing (although some are highly entertaining). The most probable reason for the practice of eating dairy on Shavuot is that pastoral communities tend to produce most of their cheese in the spring, when sheep, cows, and goats suckle their young. Because of this, springtime festivals the world over tend to feature butter and cheese.
To learn why it was the Jews and not some other nation that got the 10 Commandments read my post How Jews Came to be the Chosen People