Shavuot (literally “weeks”) has finally arrived (May 28th this year). Among the holidays described in the Torah (Lev. 19), it is unique because it is the only one which does not have a set date on which it occurs. Rather, we are instructed to count 50 days from Passover and then celebrate (this practice is called the Counting of the Omer).
The significance of having to count to establish the date for the holiday focuses us on the nature of Shavuot; a celebration of the culmination of a period of waiting.
The primary reason for this holiday as given in the Torah is to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest and is when an offering of the spring wheat harvest would be presented to the Lord. The very nature of this holiday entails waiting. It is the only holiday given in the Torah that the Jewish people had to wait until they entered the Promised Land to be able to fully observe. They could eat the Passover, offer sacrifices on Yom Kippur and build Sukkot in the wilderness, but living as nomads, they were unable to offer from a harvest.
In fact, throughout most of Jewish history, the agricultural aspect of this holiday has fallen to the wayside. Without a land or temple, it was impossible to observe. During the two thousand years of living in diaspora, the vast majority of Jews are not an agricultural people. The conditions they found themselves in (such as being prohibited from land ownership throughout much of Europe’s history), let to the Jewish people becoming a very urbanized group.
Only with the restoration to the land of Israel, were the Jewish people able to reclaim this aspect of their identity. The Kibbutzim that build the foundation of the rebuilding of the Jewish state idealized working the land and even leading thinkers and activist such as Ben Gurion made sure to pay their dues sweating in the backbreaking labor of the hot Middle Eastern sun.
It is not surprising that Shavuot took on a unique significance to the Kibbutzniks, who would stage agricultural parades, complete with tractors to display the produce of the land. Some even went as far to parade the new babies that had been born in the past year!
However, there is a second significance to the Shavuot celebration which surpassed the agricultural aspect and quickly became the primary focus and most of the ways the holiday is observed today connect to this.
This day is also seen as the time which the Torah was given to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai and they entered into a covenant relationship with God.
Here again we see the theme of waiting.
“And the Lord said to Moses, Go to the people and prepare them today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their garments. And they shall be prepared for the third day, for on the third day, the Lord will descend before the eyes of all the people upon Mount Sinai” – Exodus 19:10-11
For believers in Yeshua, there is yet another aspect of waiting that this holiday holds. It is on Shavuot (Pentecost) that words of the Jewish prophet Joel was fulfilled and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) was poured out on the Jewish apostles and and talmidim who were waiting, actively seeking and praying in Jerusalem.
He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father promised—which, He said, “you heard from Me… but you will be immersed in the Ruach ha-Kodesh not many days from now.” – Acts 1:4-5 TLV
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