SHAVUOT – PENTECOST – Part 2 – CELEBRATION!

Leil Shavuot – The Eve of Pentecost

~ Keren Hannah

The anticipated time has arrived and we can celebrate the Jubilee of Shavuot!
At nightfall, special festival candles are lit with the blessing:

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’Olam,
asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav ve’tzivanu lehadlik ner shel Yom Tov.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us to light the Festival lights.

The She’hechianu blessing is then recited:

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’Olam,
She’hechianu, ve’kiamanu, ve’higianu la’zman ha’zeh.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

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Study of Torah

At Shavuot we celebrate God’s giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, and the gift of the Holy Spirit on Mount Zion. It is customary, in some Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, for children at three or four years of age to begin their study of the Torah at Shavuot. In order to symbolize the sweetness of Torah, as expressed in the verse: “The knowledge of Torah is like milk and honey under the tongue,” the teachers give each child a drop of honey, or candy, as they learn each new letter. Whenever, we study God’s Word with all our heart, the sweetness is tasted and it is a moment of revelation and a celebration of God’s gift at Sinai and in the person of His Son and Messiah, Yeshua.

At Shavuot the ten utterances of Creation in Genesis are echoed in the Ten Words – the Ten Commandments given at Mount Sinai. Through the gift of His Torah, God informs us, as a Father to His children, that what we do matters. He gives us His guidance and instructions on how to live in order to grow in His likeness and to become the people He created us to be. There is no other way to fulfill our potential and live a life that is meaningful and vibrant – a life of true peace and joy eternal – apart from His way. All that is required from us is to do as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai – to recognize that He is God and to say, “We will do and we will hear!”

Yeshua came and lived His life as the the love of God and the Torah Incarnate, the perfect expression of the Father’s holiness. An important aspect of His mission was to bring the light of God’s Word to the world – to perfectly reflect the Divine image and to lead us in our Father’s way of truth and righteousness; to walk in His love with giving hearts. All that Yeshua did every day was in unity and harmony with the Father and was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He came, as a faithful Shepherd, to lead the way and to inspire his disciples to follow, to the glory of the Father.

Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.
(John 5:19)

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness”… “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee”
(Luke 4:1, 14).

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The book of Ruth and the Psalms are the main focus of study at this season. Shavuot is considered the day of the Psalmist King David’s birth and death, and the link in lineage between Ruth, David and Messiah is celebrated. Psalm 68 is considered a special psalm to be read at Shavuot. During synagogue services, the Hallel Psalms are read (Psalms 113 – 118). In addition, there is a special reading of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19-20), during which the congregation stands in order to re-enact the receiving of the Torah at Sinai. Sephardic Jews read a beautiful ketubah (wedding contract) following the opening of the Ark on Shavuot morning to honor God as the Groom and Israel as His bride. At the Temple on Mount Zion, the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples of Yeshua, thus it is worthwhile to include a study of the gifts and fruit of the Spirit in our lives at Shavuot.

After a light celebratory dinner, Leil Shavuot, the night of Shavuot, is devoted to the study of Torah – an all night event for the stalwart! In Jerusalem, for example, study events with excellent teachers are set up all across the city throughout the night. I have sweet memories of moving with a group of friends from one preselected and timed study to another. Just before dawn, everyone started walking to the Kotel, the Western Wall, at the heart of the Old City. As we walked, we could hear the steps and soft murmurings of more and more little streams of people joining with the growing ‘river’ that was flowing from all directions to the gathering place that represents the earthly, Holy House of God.
Suddenly time had no meaning; we became part of the innumerable processions that, through history, had made their way joyfully in response to His call to “come up” to His holy mountain to meet with Him at His appointed time. Our hearts were filled with the beauty of His Word, our mouths were singing psalms of praise, and we rejoiced that we could stand together in His Presence in the place that He had chosen as His Dwelling Place forever. As we prayed and sang and watched the new day dawn with its ever-brightening golden light, our hearts were filled with hope and faith in the Salvation and Redemption of our God, who has promised:

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On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. YHWH, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will renew you in his love; He will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. He will remove disaster from you…” (Zephaniah 3:16-18).

Day of the Firstfruits – Yom HaBikkurim

The central theme of the ingathering of the wheat harvest fifty days after the planting at Passover, and the offering of the first fruits to the Creator and Giver of all, is beautifully celebrated on the kibbutzim [agricultural communities] in restored Israel today.  I enjoy delightful memories of my time on a kibbutz in the swamp-turned-fertile-farmland valley of Jezreel. Late morning, after catching up on some sleep after a night of study, everyone would meet in the wheat fields where, in a form of dance, a group of men would reap the grain with huge sickles. I was invited to join the group of women, dressed in white and red, who danced behind them gathering the stalks and placing them together in a growing pile. What a prophetic, joyful dance!

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Lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest.
He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together

John 4:35-36

We then walked to a large open area, happily led by the children who were dressed in white like little brides and grooms, bedecked with flowers in their hair and flowing colorful ribbons. There we rejoiced in God’s plentiful provision as each department of the kibbutz would process with the fruits of their labors and display them. This was followed by further celebration in dance and communal song, until we all adjourned to the flower and greenery filled dining hall for a fresh and delicious dairy-based meal.

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It is customary to eat dairy foods rather than meat at Shavuot, based on the verse,
The knowledge of Torah is like milk and honey under the tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11).
Baked goods also feature, being the ‘fruit’ of the grain crops.

Extra large and longer challah bread is baked or purchased in recollection of the offering of the two loaves of bread waved by the HIgh Priest at the Temple. They are a fitting symbol of the good and nourishing results of man’s participation with God as he works with what is given by God.

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Cheesecake, of course, is the perennial favorite. [See recipes below]. Some Sephardic communities bake specially decorated seven-layer cakes to indicate the completion of the seven weeks of anticipation. There is also a mystical belief that there are seven spheres, or heavens, that separate man and God. Thus, “…the seven layers of the cake represent the mystical celestial spheres that God had to traverse to deliver the Torah to the Jewish people.” [1] And, thus, the seven spheres our spirits need to spiral upward through as we grow and draw closer in intimate relationship with Him.

Things to Do at Home

  • Decorate your home with special flowers and greenery to celebrate God’s gift of the beauty of the season.
  • Make garlands of “flower crowns” for children to wear.
  • Arrange a centerpiece for your table using meaningful symbols. Here, for example, I used a silver platter embossed with fruit, to represent the silver of Redemption and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). A single white candle represents the spotless Messiah Yeshua, who enfleshed the Torah and dwelt amongst us as the “light of the world” (John 8:12).

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We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit [red, as in flames] and through belief in the Truth [white]. (2 Thessalonians 2:13)

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  • Make a Ten Commandments Card.

To help children understand the importance of the day of receiving God’s Word, help them make a decoration that can be displayed as a reminder. This is a simple example.

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* Fold a piece of A4 paper in fourths and cut the top in a semi-circle so that it unfolds like the tablets of Torah.
* Fold left and right sides inwards. You can practice Hebrew by writing the first ten letters of the Aleph Bet, which represent numerals 1 through 10, or write the numerals.
* Paste a cutout red heart on the inside to show that the Word is written on our hearts. Enjoy selecting and writing relevant and meaningful Scripture verses, e.g. Psalm 119:89, 97, 130; Luke 4:4.

  • To add to the fun, have a sleepover party for the children, while the adults study the book of Ruth. As a “midnight feast,” a treat of a special cake can be enjoyed. Maybe a white cheesecake, ice-cream cake, or a cake with white icing, representing the sweetness, purity, and enjoyment of the Word. You could add twelve red cherries or strawberries, representing the fruit of the Spirit. Add a few candles representing the flames of fire that descended at Mount Sinai and on the Temple Mount. At an opportune time, the children could blow out the candles, making the sound of a “mighty, rushing wind”! [2]

Shavuot 2 - 9Chag Shavuot Sameach! A Blessed and Joyous Pentecost!

 

RECIPES:

Shavuot Coconut Cheesecake

  • 1-1/2 cups graham cracker (or ginger biscuit) crumbs
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 
½ cup cream of coconut
  • 
½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whipped cream or topping of your choice
  • ½ cup coconut, toasted

Mix together graham cracker crumbs and melted butter/margarine and press into bottom of 9-inch spring-form pan. Refrigerate. Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.

  1. Cream together cream cheese, cream of coconut, sugar and vanilla until smooth.
  2. Add eggs one at a time. Pour mixture over crust and bake for 40 minutes.
  3.  Refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.
  4. Remove sides of pan and top with whipped topping and toasted coconut before serving.

Fruit Kebabs with Creamy Dips

  • Assorted fruit, cut into roughly 1” shapes
  • Wooden skewers
  • 1 large container vanilla yoghurt
  • 2 Tablespoons honey

Skewer a selection of fruit on each skewer – red strawberry and yellow pineapple brighten them up!

Mix yoghurt & honey. Pour into three or four bowls and add a different flavor to each if desired. For example, coconut, orange juice, chocolate.

DIp fruit into the various creamy dips and enjoy.

Yummy and healthy! Be’teiavon! Bon apetite!

 

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Footnotes:

1. Rabbi K.M. Olitzky & Rabbi Daniel Judson, Jewish Holidays, Jewish Lights Publishing, Vermont, 2007, 94.
2. Thanks to Michele Guiness for this idea! (The Heavenly Party, Monarch Books, 2007, 181)

SHAVUOT – PENTECOST – Part 1

Season of Revelation and Romance   by Keren Hannah Pryor

You shall count seven weeks; begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain [barley harvest – Passover]. Then you shall keep the Festival of Weeks [Shavuot] for YHWH your God, contributing a freewill offering in proportion to the blessing that you have received from YHWH your God.
Deuteronomy 16:9-10

Shavuot also is known as Chag HaKatzir, the Harvest Festival. It is the second of the three major Pilgrimage Festivals appointed by God, when the people of Israel would go up to Jerusalem to meet with Him at the Temple. This applied to men in particular but women and children accompanied them whenever possible. Usually, great and joyful processions would wend their way from every corner of the Land, all going up to the beautiful City of God. None travelled empty handed for, apart from all they needed for the journey, they carried baskets filled with the first fruits of their crops, which they would bring to the Temple as an offering of gratitude to the generous Giver of all. The seven weeks they had counted since Passover were almost at an end, they had harvested the wheat crop, and now, before the days of the fast approaching summer became too warm, they were gathering together in eager anticipation as one big family at the House of their Father to celebrate His goodness with offerings, music, dance, and feasting.

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Shavuot is only a one day holiday in Israel, whereas Passover and Sukkot  each are celebrated for a week. Counting the seven weeks of the Omer connects the springtime festivals of Passover, First Fruits, and Unleavened Bread with the climax of Shavuot, when, in a dramatic revelation of His Presence, God presented His Word to His people.
This ‘chain’ of 49 days is reflected in the Fall Feasts, beginning with the month of Elul, which is followed by Rosh HaShana, the ten Days of Awe, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). The Fall sequence culminates with the special celebration of Simchat Torah – rejoicing over the precious gift of God’s Word, the firstfruits of which were given at the first Shavuot/Pentecost.

The Word

One of the central themes of the Bible is the revelation of who God is and, as a result, who we are as His children created in His image. As Shavuot primarily celebrates this revelation and the covenant relationship of God with His people, it is one of the key festivals in the cycle of God’s appointed times. At Passover we celebrated “so great a salvation.” God showed Himself, through signs and wonders, to be the mighty Redeemer of His enslaved people. Through the blood of His Passover Lamb, Messiah, this salvation was made available for all peoples of the earth. He opened the way, the door to life, for all. That was a wonderful beginning! Then He said, “Count the days! Wait in anticipation – there is more!”

Seven weeks later, in a spectacular ‘sound-and-light’ show, God revealed Himself on Mount Sinai before His waiting people. At the Red Sea, Moses had declared the understanding that the God of Israel was King. “Adonai yimloch le’olam va’ed! The Lord, YHWH, will reign forever and ever!” (Exodus 15:18). Now, at Sinai, He would present the blueprint for life in His Kingdom; the Constitution, as it were, which would instruct His people on how to create a kingdom on earth in which God is King.

The gathered Israelites not only would receive their ‘identity cards’ as members of His Kingdom, but they also would receive a declaration of His love, a ketubah, a betrothal document from a groom to a bride. They were both overwhelmed and terrified! The King knew, however, that this was not a one-time event. It was the start of an extended process – the forging and developing of an eternal relationship that, like any covenant relationship, would require constant, ongoing dialogue and interaction.

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By hearing, studying, and living this great gift of His Word, incarnated in Yeshua, we His people are enabled to grow in knowledge and love of our Bridegroom-King. At the same time, we are enabled to grow in all the Kingdom potential our Father has planted within us.

At Shavuot on Mount Zion, the promised gift of the Holy Spirit came from Heaven as tongues of fire and rested upon the disciples of Yeshua – filling, empowering, inspiring them to “go forth into all the earth” as ambassadors for the Kingdom of God and His Messiah. They would carry the good news that the sacrifice had been made, the price was paid, and whosoever would repent and turn in faith to the one God of Israel would be “children and heirs” in His Kingdom (Romans 8:14-16). That Shavuot was a new day for the extension of the Kingdom of God on earth, which, beginning at His Holy House in Jerusalem, would now reach out to the far corners of the earth.

The Harvest – HaKatzir

The connection between Pesach and Shavuot is also marked with the beginning and end of the wheat harvest. The ingathering of the whole harvest was a vital, busy time as the crop would provide a staple food for the nation, the lack of which would mean famine.

The centrality of the harvest is a feature in the book of Ruth, which is read and studied at Shavuot. It was due to a famine in the land that Naomi and her husband, and their two sons, left their town of Bethlehem for the neighboring country of Moab. After the death of her husband and sons in Moab, Naomi and one Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, returned to Bethlehem. It was at the time of the wheat harvest and Ruth went to glean in the fields in order to support herself and her mother-in-law. Ruth was the “first fruits” of those from the nations who have and who will in the last days, as the prophet Zechariah describes, …take hold of the tzitzit/ tassles of the prayer-shawl of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (8:23).

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Picture – Kenneth Berg

As Ruth said to Naomi: “Do not entreat me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried” (1:16-17).

Ruth’s faithfulness and demeanor earned her the admiration of the landowner Boaz and, to cut a long story short, a wedding ensued. To them a son was born, named Oved (servant of God), who in turn had a son, Jesse, who was the father of David – the second king of Israel. From David’s line would come forth the Messiah, Yeshua, the future King of all kings; the one sent and anointed of God as the “bread of life.” As Yeshua said, “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. [God’s Word enfleshed – as he said, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Luke 4:4] Whoever eats of this bread [of the truth of God’s Word] will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

He gave his flesh as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and then, in the power of the Father was raised from the grave as the first fruits of new resurrection life. “Messiah has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

At Shavuot on Mount Zion, God poured out the gift of His Spirit of holiness. We now wait for the full and final harvest in the last days with longing and great anticipation, as Paul wrote, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for…the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).

The Wedding

The Shabbat before Shavuot (23rd May this year) is called Shabbat Kallah – the Sabbath of the Bride, which is comparable to the Sabbath celebrated by a Jewish bride prior to her wedding. On Erev Shavuot, the Eve of Shavuot, it is customary for an observant Jew to go to the mikveh (ritual bath) as a means of purification and preparation, as a bride does on the eve of her wedding and as the Israelites prepared themselves at Sinai.

It is with this same sense of eager anticipation, albeit that our joy can be touched with some trepidation, that we count the final days of the Omer and arrive at the threshold of Shavuot. Our preparation will determine whether we will be ready to ascend the mount and enter the ‘fiery cloud’ of His Presence and hear the voice of God that has special words to speak to each of His children. We need not fear, however, for they are words of love as a bridegroom would whisper to his beloved bride. A very concrete example of this is enacted in Sephardic services on Shavuot. When the Ark is opened and before the Torah scroll is removed, a ketubah like document is read before the congregation. Some examples of which are as follows:

The Bridegroom [YHWH], Ruler of rulers, Prince of princes…Whose mouth is pleasing and all of Whom is delightful, said unto the pious, lovely and virtuous maiden [the people of Israel], who is beautiful as the moon, radiant as the sun, awesome as bannered hosts… Be thou My mate according to the law of Moses and Israel, and I will honor, support and maintain thee and be thy shelter and refuge in everlasting mercy…

The bride consented and became His spouse. Thus an eternal covenant, binding them forever, was established between them…. The dowry that this bride brought consists of an understanding heart that understands, ears that hearken, and eyes that see….Thus, the sum total of the contract and dowry…amounts to the following: “Revere YHWH and observe His commandments; this applied to all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

I invoke heaven and earth as reliable witnesses. May the Bridegroom rejoice with the bride whom He has taken as His portion and may the bride rejoice with her Husband
…while uttering words of praise. [1]

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When describing the Kingdom of God, in chapter 25 of the gospel of Matthew, Yeshua shares a parable that describes the return of the eagerly awaited bridegroom for the wedding feast. In the gospel narrative it is clear that he, Messiah, is the Bridegroom. John the Baptizer confirms this when he describes himself in the role of a friend of the bridegroom:

He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom,
who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.
For this reason my joy has been fulfilled (John 3:29).

In the parable, at a time unexpected, the bridegroom arrives. “At midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” Some were prepared, others were not. As we anticipate the arrival of our beloved Bridegroom and friend, let us be prepared, be alert, be looking out and listening for the proclamation of His voice, “Come my beloved bride, the Feast is ready!” Our longing will be consummated and our joy truly will be fulfilled.

He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love.”
(Song of Songs 2:4)

~ Keren Hannah Pryor

Footnotes:

* Picture: Shavuot,  Baruch Nachshon, Israel

1. Michael Strassfield, The Jewish Holidays, A Guide & Commentary, Harper & Row, NY, 1985, 75.