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Friday, May 30, 2014

Jewish Holiday of Shavuot: June 3rd to June 5th

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                    

Charles Heston in the role of Moses in the Ten Commandments 1956
Shavuot=weeks  Here we go again with an important holiday to observe and with our delicious foods, it's something we do look forward to in that we get to eat cheese blinzes and other special goodies according to our customs!  We start our celebration the evening of June 3rd and it's over on June 5th this year which in the Hebrew calendar is the 5th of Sivan to the 7th of Sivon.  .

This is Shavuot/Shavuos, when we were given the Torah by Moses.  Imagine yourself sitting around amongst 600,000 of your family and friends and having left Egypt, marching and resting towards the Promised Land, and Moses has all sit down and listen to him in the mountains of Mt. Sinai, where hopefully the sound will carry to all. He probably had some men blow the Shofar (ram's horn) to get everyone's attention and quiet.

The number 7 is very special as there are 7 days in a week, and the Israelites had to work every single day when slaves in Egypt; no weekend for them.  Exactly 7 weeks after they left Egypt and while camping here at the foot of Mt. Sinai somewhere in the Sinai Peninsula, the awesome event was witnessed by all of our ancestors.

Moses came down the mountain and gave these 600,000 the 10 Commandments.  This was the Revelation, when G-d's will was revealed for all forever after.  This of course if not the whole Torah, which consists sof 613 commandments, but they were its foundation and became the moral bedrock for much of Western civilization.

So we celebrate this season of GIVING of our Torah.  We ask why this festival is not called the season of the receiving of our Torah?  The answer is that while the giving may have taken place at one time which we are commemorating, the receiving of the Torah must continue to take place every day and everywhere.

The Jews who were witnesses to this great event accepted this Covenant with G-d by declaring,
"We will do and we will listen."  (naaseh v'nishma).

The Torah makes it plain that "Neither with you only do I make this Covenant, but with him that standeth here with us, and also with him that is not here with us this day, meaning that future generations and those who would later accept this law.

Shavuot emphasizes the spiritually important lesson that the release from bondage like the Israelites were from slavery and the winning of political freedom doesn't give anyone complete freedom unless it includes the  spiritual restraints, disciplines and duties in this Revelation and in Israel's acceptance of the Torah.

That means it wasn't the end all to be freed after 400 years of slavery and that's it.  .  We had to be re-educated with a new way of living and thinking.

We have counted 7 full weeks from the 2nd day of the Passover.  Therefore, it is tied to Passover and ends the festival of Passover which led to leaving Egypt.

After getting to Israel, it is thought of also as an agricultural festival in the land of Israel, also remembering that this is the time of the harvest for wheat, and is remembered as the Day of the First Fruits, because it marks the beginning of the fruit harvest and was the occasion for the  bringing of the first ripe fruits to the Temple as an offering of Thanksgiving.
Now, get out the cottage cheese for those cheese blintzes.  We eat such a delightful food since it is the custom to eat at least one dairy meal during the holiday and emphasizes "a land flowing with milk and honey."  This is another way of remembering that we were given the Torah at this time, and recognizing that we have the Written and the Oral Torah.  We have read verses saying, "the choicest first fruits of the land unto the house of the Lord your G-d" in celebration of Shavuot also stress that "you must not boil a kid in its mother's milk."   The Oral Torah based its prohibition of eating meat and milk together at the same meal, so a separate dairy meal is deliberately eaten to emphasize the total unity of the verse and the authenticity of the Oral Torah as well.  For the Orthodox, they wait at least 6 hours before eating meat after eating a dairy product.  This means that a hamburger and milkshake is not a meal for us.  Think of how the mother cow or goat would feel if she realized you would eat her child when she just gave you her milk.  In this way we are taught that animals have feelings and we are to include them in our actions.

Makes at least 2 dozen Jewish Cheese Blintzes

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes


  • Blintzes:
  • 4 large beaten eggs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Filling:
  • 1 pound dry curd or farmers cheese or ricotta
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sugar or more to taste
We're not just a group of people celebrating and eating all the time.  We were asked to accept this covenant and did so which has led to being singled out and hated by much of mankind.  and yet, here we are,  about 14 million stubborn people following a promise made over 3,200 years ago to Moses and to G-d.  This group of Israelites and their descendants and those others following with them were to be the holy candle shining out for others as an example; a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, so they all had to be sanctified.  Holiness must be in all our religious law and encompasses every aspect of human concern and experience.  The person, the time and the place must remain holy.  All laws deal with one of these 3 aspects.  

Our definition of a holy person is different from other religions.  It is not to be the ascetic, saintly withdrawal from life or denying oneself in all human pleasures or repression of all human drives.  Our holy person is to participate in the human life sharing joy and sorrowful experiences of life, enjoying pleasures but choosing the right from the wrong, the true from the false, the good from the bad, the sacred from the profane, the pure from the impure, the clean from the unclean.  The holy person can make  the ethical-moral-religious discrimination of what life has to offer. 

 Rashi said that you shall be holy,  meaning you shall separate yourselves...but from idolatry, secularism, the vulgar and the profane.  We are to live a life of sanctity,  and help create a more sanctified society.  In other words, we are not to be sheep and follow the crowd, but to be the leaders, the shepherds and to set the correct examples.  

Resource: To Be a Jew: a guide to Jewish observance in contemporary Life by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, p. 30-37 and more.

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