The History of Shavuot

The Torah tells us it took precisely 49 days for our ancestors to travel from Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai (the same number of days as the Counting of the Omer ) where they were to receive the Torah.  Leviticus 23:21 commands: "And you shall proclaim that day (the 50th day) to be a holy convocation…".  The name Shavuot (weeks) symbolizes the completion of this 7-week journey.

Special customs on Shavuot are the reading of the Book of Ruth, which reminds us that we too can find a continual source of blessing in our tradition.  Another tradition includes staying up all night to study Torah and Mishnah, a custom called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which symbolizes our commitment to the Torah, and that we are always ready and awake to receive the Torah. 

Shavuot is celebrated 7 weeks after Passover (when the barley harvest begins).  These 7 weeks are called the Omer and are counted ceremonially.  This counting, called s’firat ha-omer, begins on the 2nd day of Passover after the evening service and is found in the book of Deuteronomy (16:9-10), “You shall count off 7 weeks… then you shall observe the Feast of Weeks to Adonai your God.”  

Once the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the mitzvah (good deed) of bringing the first fruits of the harvest was lost, the Rabbis were concerned that the observance of Shavuot might disappear.  It was during this time period (2nd century C.E.) when the Rabbis determined that the revelation of Torah at Sinai coincided with Shavuot.

Recognizing that Shavuot has both agricultural and religious roots, the holiday is known by several different names: Shavuot, Z’man Matan Torateinu and Chag HaBikkurim.