Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Shavuot

 

On the 16th of Nisan after the first day of the Hag HaMatzoth, another Holiday starts: Shavuot - The Feast of Weeks. This is a Holiday which is long anticipated because it is celebrated after 50 days.

Leviticus 23:9-11 “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, When you come to the land which I give to you, and shall reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest; And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you; on the next day after the Shabbat the priest shall wave it; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.”

The question here is, which Shabbat is this? Is this Shabbat, the Shabbat of the Hag HaMatzoth Holiday, the Passover, or the regular weekly Shabbat? I guess you have to be a rabbi to conclude that it was the Passover Shabbat because it is called “the Shabbat,” with the definite article, but what do you do with seven Shabbats? Well they say that the word there is not just Shabbats but “complete Shabbats,” therefore, must be referring to weeks:

Leviticus 23:15. “And you shall count from the next day after the Shabbat, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven complete Shabbats.”

Now, the question would be, is Shavuot tied down to a calendar time frame, to a specific Shabbat, or to an agricultural season, which the two may not coincide due to weather variations? Because it says, “When you shall reap its harvest.” Does this “when” not imply a variable time? But, probably because the rabbis were not farmers, they decided to bring the sheaf symbolically on the day after Passover. This tradition to start counting the Omer on the day after Hag HaMatzoth dates back to the Talmudic times. This period of 50 days is called Sefirat Ha Omer “Counting of the Omer.” It is interesting to note that on the first day of the Omer count one should bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of the harvest, but on the 50th day two loaves of baked bread (lehem) with leaven as also the first fruits. So, starting with the day after Passover, at evening, after reciting a blessing the Omer is counted. Also, on the first Shabbat after Passover it is customary to start the reading of Pirkei Avot, one chapter a week, repeating it until Rosh HaShanah.

The Orthodox communities have a tradition called Behab, to fast on Monday, Thursday and Monday following the first Shabbat after the holiday. That is because the period of holiday rejoicing is more than a week one can easily slip from spiritual celebration to frivolity. Therefore, to atone for this lapse these days are set aside for repentance and soul searching with Selichot prayers.

Another non Biblical tradition started during this Omer count. In the Talmudic times 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva died from a mysterious plague. The Talmud says that this was because "they did not show proper respect to one another." Therefore this period of time became a time of semi-mourning, there are no celebrations, no weddings, not even haircuts – a more somber mood. But, on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, Lag B’Omer, (the 18th of Iyar) the plague stopped, therefore became a joyful day. On Lag Ba’omer the prohibitions of the Omer period are lifted. It is a time of dancing and singing. Families go on picnics and outings. Lag Ba'Omer in Israel is a school holiday. Hundreds of weddings are held adding a festive character of this holiday. Youngsters and their parents light bonfires in open spaces in cities and towns throughout the country. That is because some say that the disciples of Akiva were killed not by a plague, but in the Bar Kokhba's revolt (in which Rabbi Akiva was a major figure). They say that the plague was actually the Roman occupation. So, in this context, the lighting of bonfires on this evening signifies the bonfires used in ancient times as signals in wartime.

The day is also the Yartzeit - the anniversary of the death - of the famous Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, the Kabbalist, traditionally known as the author of the Zohar. During the Middle Ages, Lag Ba'Omer became a special holiday for rabbinical students and was even called the "Scholar's festival." It was customary to rejoice on this day through various kinds of merrymaking. The Yartzeit is celebrated with torches, songs and feasting, this being a specific request by Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai of his students. It is a custom at the celebrations in Meron - the burial place - dating from the time of Rabbi Isaac Luria, that three-year-old boys are given their first haircuts, while their parents distribute wine and sweets.

The Shabbat right before Shavuot is called, Shabbat Kallah.

So, the Omer count ends and it is Shavuot or Weeks, or if you prefer Greek, Pentecost (fifty):

Leviticus 23:16-22 “To the next day after the seventh Shabbat shall you count fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal offering to the Lord. You shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the first fruits to the Lord… And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering before the Lord with the two lambs; they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. And you shall proclaim on the same day, that it may be a holy gathering to you; you shall do no labor in it; it shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.” Then again we see God’s mercy and grace in verse 22: “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not make clean riddance up to the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning of your harvest; you shall leave them to the poor, and to the stranger; I am the Lord your God.”

This Holy Day is the second of the Shalosh Regalim festivals with the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and, because the people were supposed to bring of the new meal offering from the first fruits it is also called Hag HaBikkurim – the Festival of the First Fruits. Shavuot is called Atzereth (Assembly) in the Talmud, in the sense that it serves as a concluding festival to Pesach. The Decalogue – Ten Commandments - is read in the synagogue on the first day, it is a Rabbinical commandment for everyone to hear it, including infants. Plants and flowers decorate the bimah and the aron ha-kodesh. The book of Ruth, for its description of a summer harvest in Israel, and the famous liturgical poem Akdamut are read before the reading of the Torah on the first day.

It took 50 days from exodus from Egypt for the people of Israel to arrive at Mount Sinai where God gave them the Torah, therefore Shavuot is also called Z’man Matan Toratenu, the Season of Giving our Torah. Milk dishes – Milichik- are the customary foods, symbolizing the Torah which is likened to milk, according to the allegorical interpretation of the book of Song of Songs ("Honey and milk are under your tongue"). The most popular is the Kreplach – three corner pocket of dough filled with cheese.

Today the Shavuot holiday reminds of the contribution of the Torah to the world. Torah was the first to recognize the worth of ordinary people, to establish human rights, public education, environmental responsibility, freedom of information, medical ethics, social action—the whole concept of progress and hope for the future. No other teaching has had a comparative impact on our way of thinking today. It reminds Israel of her obligation to be a "Kingdom of Priests" and a "Holy Nation."

But Jews received another gift on this day, the Ruach Hakodesh. Believers were baptized with the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:1: "And when the day of Shavuot is fulfilled, they were all together at the same place. And there was suddenly from Shomayim a sound like the rushing of a violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And tongues appeared to them, being divided as fire, resting on each one of them, and all were filled with the Ruach Hakodesh, and they began to speak in other tongues as the Ruach Hakodesh was giving the ability to them to speak. Now there were in Yerushalayim frum (orthodox)Yehudim from all the nations under Shomayim. And at this sound, the multitude assembled and was bewildered, because they were hearing, each one in his own native language."

Therefore, Shavuot is a picture of a spiritual harvest, a harvest of the first fruits imbued with spiritual power. The first century of the common era's Shavuot was God's first harvest of those redeemed in the blood of Yeshua HaMashiah.

On Shavuot two loaves of fine ground flour baked with leaven were presented as offerings of first fruits. The symbolism of these two loaves is revealed by James (1:18) as representing the first fruits of believers. The two loaves are Jewish and Gentile believers. Even though the loaves contain leaven and leaven is a symbol of sin, it does not mean that after we become believers we still can sin but that we come to Him with our sins. God brought together the Jews and the Gentiles to form a new body, a new creation. God redeemed us from the world of sin, from the spiritual Egypt, through the shed blood of His Son, the lamb of Passover. And just as Yeshua, our Passover, was Holy and pictured as matzah, unleavened bread, without sin, so too this new creation in His body was meant to be Holy.

God destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem but He built something else to take its place — it is a spiritual Temple the Beth HaMikdash, it is the Ekklesia, where Jews and Gentiles are fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Moshiach Yeshua. Therefore, Shavuot is the fulfillment of Torah true Judaism, the hope of Jewish people and the blessing of the Gentiles so that they might come together in faith as one.

 

Weekly Scripture Reading

For
Shabbat HaChodesh
The Shabbat of the New Month

 

Parashah: Vayakhel - "And Assembled” & Pekudei — “The Reckonings”

— Torah:
Exodus 35:1 – 38:20 & 38:21 – 40:38

Chazak! Chazak! Venischazeik! (Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!)

— Haftarah Shabbat HaChodesh: Ezekiel 45:16 — 46:18


From the fact that the commandment to observe the Shabbat precedes the building of the Mishkan, the sages concluded that labor is of value only if it can have a sacred as well as a secular purpose; otherwise, it is innately trivial - all our labor for the earthly things is just vanity and striving after wind...

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