SHAVUOT – PENTECOST

SEASON OF REVELATION AND ROMANCE  

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 YHVH your God, contributing a freewill offering in proportion to the blessing that you have received from YHVH 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.

 

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, and the week ofUnleavened 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 in the Spring 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.  Then it was as if 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, YHVH, 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, that 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.

 

An embroidered Torah Ark cover., which reads:

 Etz Chaim Hi L’Machzikim Ba –  A Tree of Life is she [the Torah] to those who strongly take hold of her.

By hearing, studying, and living this great gift of His Word 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.

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

Just 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, Yishai (Jesse), who was the father of David – the second king of Israel. From David’s line will come forth Mashiach ben David – the Messiah Son of David, the future King of all kings; one sent and anointed by God to establish His Kingdom on earth.

THE WEDDING

The Shabbat, 8th May this year, before Shavuot (11th May) 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 and bridegroom do on the eve of their 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 approach 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 [YHVH], 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 YHVH 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]

A chuppah – wedding canopy

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

~ Keren Hannah

Footnotes:

* Picture: Shavuot,  Baruch Nachshon, Israel

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

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