Everyone has heard of Passover. But what is Shavuos? And why have so few people heard of it? It’s also in the Torah, yet it certainly does not have the eminence that Passover holds for most people. Why is it not as well known as Passover?
We all know what Passover is about. That’s when we became a nation, in a sense. At any rate, that’s when we became the «Nation that the Creator has taken for His very own.» But what was it for? Why did the Creator choose us? What purpose did He have in mind?
Well, that’s what’s Shavuos is all about. While Passover is the time we became the Nation to receive a Mission, it was on Shavuos that we received that Mission.
It is a fundamental of Judaism that the calendar year (and week) is a recurring cycle. Every Sabbath is an exact spiritual replica of that very first Sabbath of Creation. The exact same holiness and spirituality that pervaded the world on that first Sabbath pervades and permeates the world each and every Sabbath of the year.
And the same is true of the Holidays. The very same holiness that was bestowed upon the Children of Israel that night they sat in Egypt eating Matzoh and Bitter Herbs at the very first Passover Seder — that very same holiness is available to us each and every Passover Seder night, if only we learn how to tap into it!
And the same is true, of course, for all the other Holidays. Shavuos marks the season during which the Creator gave us custody of the Torah. On that day, the purpose of Creation was handed over to us, and the responsibility for its maintenance became our charge.
The giving of the Torah was actually a part of the process of Creation. More to the point, it was and is the very act that sustains the universe, as it says, «Were it not for my covenant, observed day and night, the laws and heaven and earth I would not have set.» (Jeremiah 33:25) The Torah, сtherefore (and the fulfillment of its commandments, of course), is the very purpose of Creation.
This was the reason G-d took us out of Egypt, to give us the Holy Torah. It was not mere material riches that G-d promised Abraham when He said «and afterwards they will leave with great wealth…» (Genesis 15:14), but it was to the Torah that G-d was referring.
And so, each and every year, on the Holiday of Shavuos, we renew that relationship, and we reaccept that responsibility. Shavuos takes place fifty days after Passover, time enough for us to get ready to accept our mission.
Note that Shavuos is not called the «Season in which we received the Torah,’ but rather, the «season in which the Torah was given.» That marked the beginning of our deeper relationship with the Creator, but in truth we must affirm it every day. Every day of our lives is another day of «receiving the Torah,» but the special moment of the Giving of the Torah takes place on Shavuos.
Almost every Holiday (Yom Tov — literally «good day») marks both a historical event (though recurring, as we spoke above), and a yearly agricultural event. Passover marks the time the Creator rescued us from Egypt, and also takes place during the barley harvest. Consequently, in addition to all other Holiday observances, such as the Passover Sacrifice brought by the people, the Kohanim (priests) at the Holy Temple were required to present the Barley Offering, the Omer.
Shavuos marks the season in which the Torah was given to us, and also takes place during the harvest of the wheat and the fruit. Consequently, among the Holiday observances of Shavuos were two additional offerings: the «Two Loaves of Wheat-Bread,» brought by the Kohanim; and the Bikurrim, the First Fruits, brought by the fruit farmers themselves. In addition, there are many Holiday observances and customs specifically for Shavuos, as we shall see in the next article in this series, The Many Names of Shavuos.