Shavuot Message 2020

Today is Shavuot, the second of the three pilgrimage festivals that God decreed we should celebrate. The instructions regarding this Holy Day can be found in Leviticus 23:15-21.

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There is a difference, in my opinion, between a Holy Day and a holiday; the former is decreed by God, and the latter is man-made. Shavuot (Hebrew meaning “weeks”) is a Holy Day, but the way Shavuot is celebrated today (and has been since around the Third Century C.E.) is really a holiday.

According to the information in “The Jewish Book of Why” (which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to learn about the Jewish lifestyle and Judaism in general), in the Talmud, Rabbi Eleazar said that we should celebrate this day as the giving of the Torah to Israel (Pesachim 68b), and from then on Shavuot was no longer a divinely decreed harvest festival but became a man-made holiday.  The justification for this change was that the country no longer was exclusively an agrarian economy and bringing the first fruit of the harvest to the temple was no longer something being done, so to keep the day alive in Jewish life, they made it into a celebration of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.

You might ask how anyone who studies the Bible, especially Torah-observant Jews, would ever accept that redefinition of what God said we should do. It doesn’t even come close to what the Bible says, from the timeline in Exodus, because we are told in Exodus 19 that it was the first day of the third month when the Israelites arrived at the Sinai Desert.  Shavuot is 50 days after the first Shabbat after the Seder, and since that first Seder was while still in Egypt, there is no way that Shavuot could have been at the time they arrived at Sinai, which was nearly 90 days later.

But, the Rabbis won out and since that time, Jews have celebrated Shavuot as the giving of the law, and I believe most Jews today don’t even know that they are celebrating incorrectly.

This day is also known as Pentecost, which almost everyone believes to be a Christian holiday, even though the word Pentecost means 50 days. It is clearly a Jewish celebration, based on the counting of the Omer after Passover. In the Book of Acts, we are told there were thousands of Jews in Jerusalem, from all over the world, when the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) was given to them. The reason there were thousands of Jews in Jerusalem is that it was a pilgrimage Holy Day! Pentecost is a Jewish Holy Day that was renamed and re-branded to become a Christian holiday.

Seems that the Rabbis and the Church leaders had something in common- they thought they could remake what God said to do to be what they want it to be.

But, there is some good that comes from this. I think that the physical slavery to sin, which the Torah can free us from, and the spiritual freedom from sin, which the giving of the Ruach can lead us from, is a good thing to teach at this time of the year. The Torah teaches us how to live a life free from sin (as Shaul tells us in Romans) by defining sin, and the Ruach helps us to know what is right and lead us to righteousness. The law defines sin, and the Ruach leads our actions by giving us divine guidance to keep us from sinning.

Of course, the weak link in this whole process is that humans are self-serving and sinful by nature, but with knowing what the law says and listening to the Ruach, we can become greater than what we are.

I don’t like it when man-made creations overrule what God has decreed, but in the case of Shavuot being turned from a harvest festival to the celebration of the giving of the Torah, and how relating that with Pentecost can be used to bridge the gap between Jewish and Christian understanding of God and his Holy Spirit, well… I am OK with it.

Besides, with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, we can’t celebrate Shavuot as God decreed, just the same way we can’t celebrate Passover as he decreed, either. Yet, we DO celebrate Passover in our homes to keep the commandment as best as we can. I would think that to celebrate Shavuot in a different manner in order to fulfill the commandment as best as we can, just might be acceptable to God.

If you go to Shul on this day, keep the tradition of bringing a loaf of bread with you. This is one of those rare times when the bread being offered is baked with leavening, and enjoy this day because it is a joyful day.

We are not celebrating it exactly as God decreed, but we are celebrating the instructions God gave and are gratefully worshiping God, thankful and obedient to Torah as best fits the world today. Personally, I don’t think God will have a problem with that.

Thank you for being here and please subscribe, share these messages with others, and check out my books; if you like what you read in these messages you will like my books, as well. And remember that I always welcome your comments.

Until next time, Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

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