The sight of tastefully presented pan de siete cielos with joyful greetings of Chag Sameach echoing in a house adorned with tons of fragrant blooms instantly excites you when you think of celebrating the spiritual event of Shavuot.
But do you know why this event is celebrated with so much enthusiasm? Have you ever read about its historical and spiritual background?
Even if you have not, here is your chance to dig into the valuable details of this famous Jewish holiday.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s begin our talk about Shavuot and all the major and minor rituals, traditions, and practices that contribute to making its celebrations GRAND.
What is Shavuot, and how was it celebrated?
The word Shavuot belongs to Hebrew and means “weeks.” This gives reason to why Shavuot is sometimes also known as “the feast of weeks.”
It is a two-day holiday that commemorates the spiritual event of receiving the Torah from God – Zeman Matan Torah. God talked to Moses on Mount Sinai and gifted him the Ten Commandments.
Torah clearly states that Israelites traveled from Egypt to Mount Sinai for an extended period of seven weeks. Those weeks stretched from the wheat harvest to Passover to the harvest of Barley. Shavuot is also sometimes viewed as an agricultural celebration – Hag HaKatzir – the festival of reaping as referred to in the Bible, while Torah mentions it as Yom HaBikkurim – the festival of the first fruits.
Shavuot celebrations have always been grand. In the past, people used to munch on two wheat loaves offered to them in the temple. They also used to bring Bikkurim – a tasteful fruit, to thank God for blessing them with Torah. Decorating their houses with candles or lights of some sort was also a significant tradition back then.
Jewish women also actively participated in enjoying this festival to the fullest. They used to prepare delicious dairy and cheesy desserts and decorated every nook and corner of their place with colorful fresh flowers or fragrant plants.
Medieval poems and the Book of Ruth were read while greeting each other Chag Sameach, which means “Happy Holiday.” In addition to that, people participated in Tikkun Leil Shavuot – a study session that lasted all night long and recited Hallel. A memorial service called Yizkor was also observed on the second day of this spiritual festival.
Above all, Jewish people used to visit the synagogue with their families and listened to the ten prime commandments of the first day of Shavuot while feasting on the delicious savories and desserts.
Eastern Europeans were also known for introducing three to five-year-old children to the study of Torah – yeshiva during Shavuot. The children were given honey and cakes to signify sweetness.
Similarly, there was a tradition of eating three-cornered dumplings called kreplach, and those three corners were thought of as the three categories of the Jews.
All these traditions, customs, and practices unanimously reflected the joy, thankfulness, and excitement of the Jews and contributed to creating a joyful environment in the community on the whole.
But how many of these rituals are still followed? Let’s find it out in the next section of this article.
Preserving the traditions of Shavuot
The home customs, rituals, or practices observed on Shavuot have been passed from one generation to another ever since this festival was first celebrated in Jewish history. For instance, decorating your place with light or flowers is still in practice. However, these have no mention in Jewish law.
Kashrut or the dietary laws were identified, and thus, people avoid having meat on the first day of Shavuot and opt for dairy products instead. In place of the ancient custom of serving two bread loaves in the temple, two special challot are baked with a ladder-like pattern on them. The ladder symbolizes the mount of Sinai, where the Torah was received.
There are no such laws or religious commandments that contribute to preserving these customs for future generations. However, Torah stresses resting on this spiritual day. It further urges to have tasteful feasts and to offer religious prayers. The believers abstain from any sort of work and follow the commandments while celebrating the significant festival on the 6th and 7th of Sivan.
Facts About Shavuot
The facts about Shavuot are as interesting as the festival itself. From the logical background of commandments to the customs and practices, everything makes Shavuot an event to remember.
So, let’s share with you some of the most amazing facts that you might not know.
- Shavuot is observed in a season when dairy is plentiful.
- It is one of the three pilgrimage festivals mentioned in the religious calendar of the Jews.
- Dairy products symbolize that since Jews were blessed with Torah on this day, they became pure and innocent like a child whose only food is milk.
- The Greek name for Shavuot was Pentecost – the fiftieth day.
- Houses are decorated with flowers to commemorate the time when Mount Sinai blossomed with fragrant flowers and plants to mark the giving of the Torah.
- In some parts of the world, the believers of Judaism feast pan de siete cielos (bread of the seven heavens) – a sweet seven-layered bread.
- The Torah was given to Jews on the Mount of Sinai some 3,300 years ago.
- Jews stay up all night long on the first day of Shavuot to make up for their ancestor’s mistake of sleeping on that valuable day of blessings.
- Jewish people view Shavuot as a spiritual event marking the “marriage between God and Israelites.”
- Each day of the seven weeks between the Passover and Shavuot is referred to as Omer.
I am sure, by now, most of you have found answers to most of the questions that used to strike your mind. At the same time, those of you who have not heard about this celebration might have been intrigued to observe this festivity this year.
Gear up to prepare scrumptious dairy desserts, bring in tons of fragrant flowers, and get together to enjoy this historic day.
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