The festival of Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and encourages us to embrace the Torah’s teachings and be inspired by the wisdom Jewish tradition has to offer. Shavuot occurs on the sixth day of Sivan.
Shavuot is the Hebrew word for “weeks,” and the holiday occurs seven weeks after Passover.
Shavuot, like many other Jewish holidays, began as an ancient agricultural festival that marked the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. In ancient times, Shavuot was a pilgrimage festival during which Israelites brought crop offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. Today, it is a celebration of Torah, education, and the choice to participate actively in Jewish life.
Some people stay up all night, or very late, studying Torah. This custom evolved from a story that says that when the Israelites were at Sinai, they overslept and had to be awakened by Moses. So, to make amends and prove that we won’t fall asleep while waiting, like our ancestors did, many modern Jews stay up all night, or go late into the evening, to study and celebrate receiving the Torah. These events are known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which literally means “Rectification for Shavuot Night.”
The custom of decorating with greens and fresh flowers on Shavuot reminds us of the spring harvest and the ancient ritual of bringing the first fruits to the Temple.
Many Jews prepare and eat dairy foods – often cheesecake or blintzes – on Shavuot as a reminder of the sweetness of Torah, and also as a reminder that the Torah calls the land of Israel a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). Often families gather together on the holiday to enjoy a meal that features such dishes.