Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Muse: Shavuot 2010

Historically the religious community in Israel and in the Diaspora associates Shavuot with the Giving of the Law, the standing of our ancestors at Sinai (or Horev) on Shavuot. It is a holiday marked as the culmination of the freedom process that began on Pesach, completing the cycle with the receiving of the Law. Our rabbis tell us that it is customary to decorate the synagogue with “greens” or flowers because Sinai was surrounded in shrubbery and flowering plants at the moment that the Law was given.

Upon closer examination it may appear as though there may have been a distortion made by our esteemed sages and rabbis as to the meaning of the holiday. In reality, Shavuot is a national festival celebrating the offering up of the “bikkurim” at the Temple. The holiday is centered on ownership of land and nationhood.

This makes sense. Passover is the freedom holiday marking the beginning of a trek through the desert to claim the land promised to the patriarchs, and reaffirmed at Horeb. It was at Horeb that God gives the charge to take possession of the land promised to the patriarchs. Shavuot then, is the culmination and fulfillment of the promise. It is on Shavuot that the Israelites can bring the “bikkurim” to the Temple; the time determined by the counting of 49 days from Passover. It is a mitzva t’luya ba’aretz; a mitzvah that can only be fulfilled when living on the land.

The sages and rabbis in their wisdom, not wanting the holiday to fall by the wayside attributed a new significance to Shavuot as a result of the new reality. Living in the Diaspora it became impossible to fulfill the biblical commandment of bringing the “bikkurim” to the Temple. Without the viability of the command, the holiday would have lost it purpose had the rabbis not made the new connection, the celebration of the giving of the Law.