We are entering the festival of Shavuot – the Festival of Weeks. Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day Hashem gave the Torah to the entire Hebrew nation assembled at Mount Sinai. The holiday is one of the Shalosh Regalim, the three pilgrimage festivals (as mentioned in Parshat Emor). It marks the conclusion of the Counting of the Omer (Menachot 65-66).

The date of Shavuot is directly correlated to that of Pesach. The Torah mandates the seven-week Counting of the Omer, starting on the second day of Pesach and immediately followed by Shavuot (Vayikra 23:15). This counting of days and weeks is known to express anticipation and want for the Giving over of the Torah. On Pesach, the Jewish people were freed from their enslavement in Egypt; on Shavuot they were finally given the Torah and became a nation committed to serving Hashem.

In the Torah, Shavuot is named as the Festival of Weeks as is mentioned in Parshat Re’ah. It is also known as the festival of reaping and also as the festival of first fruits- in Hebrew named as Bikkurim – as related in Parshat Pinchus (Bamidbar 28:26).

Shavuot was the first day on which individuals could bring the Bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Bikkurim were brought from the Seven Species for which the Land of Israel is famed for: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates as mentioned in Parshat Eikev ( Devarim 8:8/Pesachim 36a).

On the 6th Sivan, we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, where Hashem gave over the 10 commandments, as related in Parshat Yitro.

Many customs take place during the festival of Shavout. Dairy foods such as cheesecake and blintzes with cheese and other fillings are usually served on Shavuot.

According to the Midrash, Mount Sinai blossomed with flowers in anticipation of the presenting of the Torah on its summit. Greenery also figures in the story of the baby Moshe being found in the river when in the casket (Shemot 2:3), this happened when he was three months old (Moses was born on 7 Adar and placed in the Nile River on 6 Sivan, the same day he later brought the Jewish nation to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah). For these reasons, many Jewish families decorate their homes and Synagogues with plants, flowers and leafy branches in bringing honour to the festival of Shavuot.

There is a custom of all-night Torah study on Shavuot night. According to a story in the Midrash, the night prior the Torah was given, the Jews retired early to be well-rested for the momentous day coming up, but they overslept and Moshe had to wake them up because Hashem was already waiting on the mountaintop (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:12). To fix this flaw in the national character, many Jews stay up all night to learn Torah on Shavuot.

On the night of Shavuot, Sephardim, before the evening service sing a poem called Azharot which sets out the 613 mitzvot. On the day of Shavuot, Ashkenazim say a beautiful poem named Akdamut, which is a liturgical poem extolling the greatness of Hashem, the Torah and Israel is read publicly in the Shul right before the morning reading of the Torah on the first day of Shavuot. It was composed by Rabbi Meir.

We read Megillat Ruth on Shavuot as it corresponds to the holiday of Shavuot both in its descriptions of the barley and wheat harvest seasons and Ruth's motivation to become a member of the Jewish people, who are known by their acceptance of the Torah. Moreover, the lineage described at the end of Megillat Ruth lists King David as Ruth's great-grandson (Megillat Ruth 4:22). According to tradition, David was also born and died on Shavuot (Chagiga 12a).

Megillat Ruth is one of the five Megilla's featured in the Tanach.

On the first day of Shavuot we will be reading from Parshat Yitro, the ten commandments (Shemot 19:1-20:23), and the Haftorah from chapter 1 and 3 from the book of Ezekiel and for people outside of Israel, the Haftorah for the second day of Shavuot is from Chapter 2 and 3 from the book in the Tanach of ‘Habakkuk.’ Habakkuk gives a vision of an impending exile of the Jewish people, and responded with a moving and eloquent prayer that Hashem should show mercy to his people.

I would like to dedicate this Dvar Torah for the memory of Bracha Eliza Bat Eteram, who very sadly passed away a few years ago, she was a young women, please pray for her memory and do good acts of kindness in her memory as she was a very kind and reightous woman!

Hope you all have a fantastic Shavuot, Chag Sameach, Michael Zaroovabeli.