Shavuot’s Meaning Baltimore Jewish Times May 26, 2006
Shavuot, which begins next Thursday evening, means "weeks" and represents the seven weeks (7X7=49 days) between the exodus from Egypt and the receiving of the Torah. Following the second day of Passover, we count the 49 days of the Omer. Shavuot is the fiftieth day. Thousands of years ago, those fifty days signified the merging of our spiritual selves with the spirit of the Divine. Three million witnesses, who could only imagine the Almighty in their hearts, heard the voice of G-d as He gave forth the laws of ethical and moral conduct, thereby changing human behavior and civilization forever. Today, Shavuot marks the time when we fortify our souls, as if we too, were hearing the Torah anew. It is a time of reaffirming our historical declaration to G-d, answering His call, "We will do and we will listen".
As over three million people congregated at the foot of Mount Sinai, after forty years of trudging through the desert, the defining moment in Jewish history occurred. Through dust and clouds, G-d’s voice emanated across the masses and transmitted the complete Torah. Each person heard and understood the commandments. This single event was a great mass revelation. Beginning Thursday evening, June 1, we celebrate this monumental experience, with the holiday of Shavuot.
King Solomon described the gift of Torah as "sweet as honey and milk under the tongue." With these words as inspiration, many traditional customs have been attributed to the joyous festival of Shavuot. Thursday evening the candles are lit with the blessing for Yom Tov, thank the Almighty, who has kept us alive and sustain us and enabled us to reach this occasion by reciting the blessing of Shehecheyonu. Some people follow the tradition of Tikkun Lail Shavuot by studying Torah on Thursday night until sunrise. On Friday, Jews around the world assemble, just as they did over three thousand years ago, to hear the recitation of the Ten Commandments. Furthermore, it is customary to eat a dairy meal. Candle lighting occurs in the evening with the recitation of the blessing of "Shabbos V’Shel Yom Tov" followed by a Shehecheyonu. The prayer of remembrance, Yizkor is recited on Shabbat morning. Yizkor candles are lit prior to lighting the Shabbos candles.
During morning Shabbat services, June 2nd, the Book of Ruth is read. The similarity is drawn between the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai and Ruth’s acceptance of the Torah, demonstrating her true yearning to convert to Judaism. Moreover, Ruth was a paragon of kindness. The Book of Ruth begins and ends with kindness. The story opens with Elimelech, who was known for his kind deeds and closes with Boaz’s heroic marriage to Ruth and the miraculous birth of their son Obed.
It is no coincidence that the Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot. It is the same date that King David, Ruth’s great-grandson was born and died. Samuel, the exulted biblical prophet, wrote the Book of Ruth as a testament to the divine claim of Israel by King David and genealogical proof of his fine character.
Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law Naomi is depicted in her most memorable passage, "Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your G-d, my G-d." The story relates how Ruth, a young Moabite princess, whose eventual conversion to Judaism, earned her an important place in Jewish history. The union between the young Ruth and the 80-year-old Boaz would produce the brave King David, three generations later and was the precursor for building the First Temple. Ruth’s conversion and unconditional acceptance of the Torah parallels the time when the Torah Laws were established at the foot of Mount Sinai.
With my recent book, Ruth Talk: Questions and Answers on the Book of Ruth, a companion to the Megillah of Ruth, the story becomes a powerful account of self-transformation filled with elements of love, hope, destiny andtikkun olam (repairing the world). Ruth Talk analyzes each segment of the four chapters in a way that brings the biblical characters to life and makes the story relevant. In the easy question and answer format, timeless lessons about life can be gleaned. Hopefully, the reader will find uplifting meaning in the nuances of particular words and discussions about the emotions and interpersonal challenges that our ancestors faced. Happy Shavuot!