Happy Anniversary, Jewish People!

Shavuot is nearly here.

Sometimes I think that Shavuot is the Jewish festival of the future. We know that in ancient times Sukkot was the most-anticipated Jewish holiday, so much so that people called it HeChag, THE Holiday. And in our own era, the big Chag is Pesach, or Passover. More Jews worldwide celebrate Passover in some form than any other event in the Jewish year. But the third Chag, the third pilgrimage festival mentioned in the Torah has not yet been the “big” festival. I wonder if there is some future age in which Shavuot will be the day we all anticipate?

Unlike the others, Shavuot is just one day, sundown to sundown. There are no sukkot for partying, no seder table at which to sit. Instead we eat some cheesecake, say the appointed prayers, and Torah students stay up all night and study. We do these things to remember the fateful day when we, as a people, accepted the Covenant and received the Torah.

I fell in love with Torah study during a Shavuot all-nighter, and it always feels a bit to me like an anniversary. It’s become a time to ask myself, what Torah have I learned this year? What do I want to learn in the future?

That feeling is actually not so far from the reality. A Jewish wedding ceremony consists of two parts: Erusin [betrothal] and Nissuin [the actual wedding.] If Passover was a betrothal, with a formal commitment and the giving of an object of value (freedom) then the Giving of the Torah was the wedding between God and Israel, joined forever in a covenant. This truly is our anniversary celebration.

In Bava Metzia 59b, the sages remind each other Lo b’shemayim hee – “She [Torah] is not in Heaven.” On Shavuot, this year on the night of May 23, we will celebrate the moment when Heaven and Earth met, and Israel accepted the Torah into her arms.

Perhaps one day we will find a way to celebrate Shavuot that will express the gravity and joy of the occasion. Until then, I will simply say, Chag Shavuot sameach – Happy Shavuot!

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

5 thoughts on “Happy Anniversary, Jewish People!”

  1. I read this article, Why Shavuot is All But Ignored Across America, (http://tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/33796/field-study?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=4ca10021ef-Sunday_May_24_20155_22_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-4ca10021ef-207342905). I would love to hear your thoughts. There were several times when I thought, “Yeah!” while reading it. I think I would prefer the agricultural celebrations and I love the cow idea! I’m just never going to manage to stay up all night — those days are gone!

  2. Shavuot is especially poignant for converts, as we read the book of Ruth. Ruth is such a lovely story about family by choice and religion by choice, and more broadly a throat-catchingly sweet story about love and loyalty between women. Plus, you know, cheesecake. So Shavuot is my new favorite holiday.

    My celebration this year was to bring to my co-workers little jewel-like cupcake-sized berry topped cheesecakes from Whole Foods, with a little label explaining what Shavuot is. I figure that they give me Christmas cookies and gifts, my turn to reciprocate. For my family, I got a full sized cheesecake. This is a great holiday!

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