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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Skorka

Shavuot- The agricultural festival and the giving and receiving of the Torah

Shavuot is described in the Torah as an agricultural holiday. On the second day of Passover, the feast of spring (Deuteronomy 16: 1), the barley harvest began in biblical times (Deuteronomy 16: 9), a process that lasted 49 days. During that time, the wheat crop was maturing and just beginning to be harvested in its turn on Shavuot, the fiftieth day. The fiftieth day after Pesach is the first day after seven cycles of seven days, each week known in Hebrew as a Shavua and its plural is Shavuot or “Weeks,” the Hebrew name of this observance. On the other hand, the Bible calls this celebration a "harvest feast" (Exodus 23:16). It is one of the three pilgrimage festivities, along with Pesach and Sukkot, the autumnal festival for the completion of the harvest of the fruits of the trees (Deuteronomy 16:16)

Shavuot is the festival on which the first harvest of fruit trees were also brought to the Temple (Deuteronomy 26: 2), hence its other name: Chag HaBikurim or the Feast of First Fruits (Lekach Tov, Emor, 65, b).

The destruction of the Temple in the year 70 left the festivity without the traditional location for its celebration. The first fruits could not be brought to the House of the Lord and the joy over the first fruits was reduced by the harsh living conditions under Roman occupation.

The sages then emphasized another aspect of the festivity. The Torah does not specify the date on which God gave it to the people of Israel. It seems reasonable to conclude that it was in the third month (Exodus 19: 1) and, as explained by Ibn Ezra ad locum, tradition teaches that it was on the sixth day of the month that the gift of the Torah was given, namely on the day of Shavuot.

Shavuot is the quintessential festivity that reflects the agricultural and creative work of the people in their land, which is where, according to the biblical conception, is to be the place where a society of righteousness, justice and spirituality must thrive, inspired by the Torah. This would serve as a model for all of humanity. This is the profound link between the agricultural festival and the receiving of the Torah, an event that marks one of the defining moments of Israel’s life: the revelation of God to humanity and the divine demand for justice, mercy and peace.

Chag Sameach!


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