At the end of each spring, the Jewish people celebrate a holiday probably not well known to those of other faiths. It is called Shavuot.
Shavuot is a Hebrew word that means "weeks." The reference is to the seven weeks between Passover and this holiday, called the "Feast of Weeks."
This year Shavuot begins at sundown Sunday and continues through Tuesday.
Shavuot was originally an agricultural festival. Our ancestors made a pilgrimage to the great temple in Jerusalem on Shavuot to offer the first fruits of their harvest. In time, Shavuot became associated with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Torah refers to the Five Books of Moses or to the parchment scroll on which they are written.
Opinions vary: There may be varying opinions as to what actually happened in the wilderness of Sinai. It is certain, however, that an awe-inspiring event took place there, an event that fashioned the life of the Jewish people, an event that brought together God and community, heaven and earth.
In Reform Judaism, this "meeting" did not occur as is described in the Torah. Revelation for Reform Jews is not static, limited to accepting the Torah as the final Word of God to the Jewish people. Revelation is a continuous process, one in which every one of us may participate. As in every generation, we each come to know God in different ways.
On Shavuot we read the Book of Ruth. Ruth is one of the five Megillot, or scrolls, which are attached to several of our holidays throughout the year. The book centers on a non-Jew's casting her lot with the Jewish people.
First convert: Ruth was selected for Shavuot because of the connection between the Jewish people receiving the Torah from God and Ruth, the non-Jew, doing the same as she aligned herself with the destiny of the Jewish people. She became the first convert to Judaism.
Reform and Conservative congregations schedule their Confirmation ceremonies on, or near, this holiday. Shavuot exemplifies the achievement of finishing formal Jewish education and crystallizes the commitment to Jewish life.
The synagogue is adorned with greens, flowers and plants to commemorate the harvest. Many Jews stay up the first night of the holiday to study the Tikun, a collection of excerpts from the Bible and teachings of the rabbis. The Tikun symbolizes that in every generation we accept the gift of the Torah and study it as a guide to living. The Ten Commandments also are read.
Symbolic fare: Dairy dishes are served during Shavuot, comparing milk and honey to the nourishment and sweetness of the Torah. A favorite dish is blintzes, a crepe-like pancake filled with cheese.
Rich in the various foods, study, symbolism and meaning that is associated with this holiday, the Festival of Shavuot is a powerful reminder of the importance of the Torah, which has kept us together as a people.
Liberation from slavery for the sake of revelation, freedom from the shackles of bondage so we could choose to serve the God of Israel -- that is the message of Shavuot.
XRabbi Franklin Muller serves at Congregation Rodef Sholom Temple, Youngstown.