On Shavuot (beginning, this year, Tuesday evening, May 30th and continuing through Thursday), we celebrate what the rabbis called z’man matan Torateinu ~ the time our Torah was gifted. However, the roots of Shavuot in Torah relate to agriculture, not the receiving of Torah. A holy celebration on Yom HaBikurim ~ the day of first-fruits is to occur at the time of the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot*), the completion of counting the seven weeks of the Omer (barley harvest)**. The express purpose of this celebration is gratitude for the abundance of the season’s wheat harvest.
As an agricultural people, the Israelites experienced Shavuot as an opportunity to honor the connection between earth, God and human labor. With the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., our land-based People became dispersed among nations. Over time, Shavuot was “reconstructed” by our great sages to serve as a celebration of the revelation of Torah at Sinai rather than a land-based, Temple ritual that must have seemed less relevant to a land-less People.
A great gift of our tradition is the permission we are given to read and reread and interpret and reinterpret Torah, finding the relevance within the wisdom held both in the black letters and the white open space that surrounds them. In this expanse, we receive permission to once again reconstruct this Festival of celebration and gratitude with enough room for BOTH agrarian appreciation and Divine revelation.
In our kehilla and in our neighborhoods and surrounding lands, many of us garden or connect to the earth in a significant way. If we don’t have our own plot to till, we attend a farmers’ market or belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture) and connect with someone who directly sows, grows, and harvests the food we eat or the flowers that beautiful our homes. We are in tune with the rhythms of the environment as we learn, once again, to pay attention, care for, and appreciate the Earth. This is the Torah of the Earth.
In this spirit, you are invited to bring a dairy snack and any variety of your “first fruits” to share with the gathered community at rabbi Jessica’s home (see calendar for details) on the evening of the first day of Shavuot (7:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 31st). This could be a poem, a song, a story, a piece of artwork, or a treasured gift that has inspired the way you receive Torah.
See you at Sinai!
* In Hebrew, the root שבע (shin-bet-ayin) is in the word sheva (seven), shavua (week) and shavuot (weeks).
**Bamidbar/Numbers 28:26, and first described in Shmot/Exodus 23:16
Artwork: Receiving Torah at Sinai, Jordana Klein