On June 4, Jews around the world will celebrate Shavuot. Shavuot is the second of three major holidays that have historical significance and revolve around agriculture. The first is Passover, followed by Shavuot, and the third is Sukkot. Agriculturally, this time signifies when the first fruits are harvested. Historically, Shavuot commemorates the day G-d gave the Torah to the Israelites on Mount Sinai.
The date of Shavuot is exactly seven weeks after Passover. The time between the two holidays is referred to as the counting of the weeks.
“You shall count for yourselves -- from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving — seven Shabbats, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days... You shall convoke on this very day — there shall be a holy convocation for yourselves — you shall do no laborious work; it is an eternal decree in your dwelling places for your generations.” (Leviticus 21:15-16, 21) The counting is seen as weeks of anticipation between the exile from Egypt commemorated by Passover and the giving of the Torah seven weeks later signifying the Jewish peoples commitment to G-d.
But why is this important to us today? We are no longer an agrarian society. Telling us not to work may cause a huge financial burden. Staying up all night on the first night, eating only certain foods, and participating in other activities may be out of our reach for a variety of reasons. We remember and participate for more than tradition. We do it to recommit ourselves to the Torah. Following the precepts of the Torah takes dedication and commitment. It takes a willingness to become a better person and to dedicate our lives to that end. It is not easy and it is not meant to be easy. I’m not sure if it is even possible to understand in a lifetime all the Torah has to offer. But it is this yearly recommitment that demands that we take a moment out of our busy lives to reflect on all that has been given to us.
Whether you are participating in a Shavuot celebration, or just out taking a walk, take a moment and reflect on all you are given and all you have. We need to be a bit more like the ancient Israelites and be joyful and look forward in anticipation. We need to think of (and thank) the people who prepare the fields, plant the seeds and then harvest the foods we eat. And from there we need to thank all of those who get the food to us and prepare it for us to eat, And of course we have to thank G-d for entrusting us with the Torah and all of the responsibility and wonder that comes with that. We are thankful for the harvest. We are grateful and humbled to be given the Torah. And we are joyful to be alive because just being alive is a blessing that too many are not able to share with us.
• Chava Lee is a member of the Jewish Community of Juneau.