Message from Rabbi Joe Mendelsohn

Shavuot, also known as the “Feast of Weeks,” is one of the Shalosh Regalim, the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals. It is the least understood holiday in the Jewish calendar and is the only one that is not identified with a date, rather it is identified by the following passages:

Vayikra 23:15  And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: 16 you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Lord.

Originally celebrated as a harvest holiday of wheat, the Rabbis identified Shavuot as Yom Matan Torah – the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai. This is calculated from Exodus 19:1:

In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.

They left Exodus on the 15th of Nisan and arrived the first of Sivan.  Add three days of waiting at the bottom of the mountain and on the fifth of Sivan the Commandments are given.


Our celebration of Shavuot includes both concepts.  We eat dairy because of scripture, which says we eat dairy to symbolize the “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8) promised to the Israelites, or that “milk and honey are under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11). We decorate our sanctuaries with spring foliage because during pilgrimage holidays the baskets used to transport first fruits to the Temple were adorned with flowers and leaves. The greens also represent that Torah is …a tree of life to those who hold fast to it” (Proverbs 3:18). And, as we do with all three Pilgrimage holidays, we hold a brief Yizkor service on the second day.

Rabbi Joe Mendelsohn