A dear brother, fairly new to this walk of faith and obedience to Torah, asked if I had an outline or guide to the traditions and practices of our people on Shavuot (Pentecost). I’m sure there are other men with the same question, so I decided to answer him here.

We laugh in our house about the calendar. In the first few years of the Torah-walk, the festivals and appointed times of HaShem (the L-rd) always seem to surprise us. Allyn is quick to point out that we goyim (gentiles) really need a good Hebrew calendar to stay on top of our responsibilities. So for everyone who missed the announcements, the clues, and most of all, the counting! – Shavout is fast approaching. Since we have decided not to have a fellowship-wide event at one house, you have a party to plan – or attend. šŸ˜€

There are two focuses for Shavuot, which begins when the sun sets this coming Tuesday.

The first aspect is a grand focus on the Torah. The day commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai 3,500 years ago. To honor the Torah (both written and Living, for us) we traditionally have a great meal and settle down to study, discuss and review the Torah. My family began our walk by inviting over Torah-friends and adding a mix of Torah-sensitive church-goers that had remarked or noticed our halachah (walk) during the past year. This bridge event became a real winner, as we taught others to wrestle with a question, a topic or a passage.

The Arizal writes:

Know that whoever does not sleep at all on this night and is involved in learning Torah, he is promised that he will complete the year and that no harm will befall him. – Mishneh Berurah 494:1

Favorite questions we discussed:

  • What changed at the cross?
  • How should we obey the command to avoid “speaking” the names of foreign gods? Like Ishtar, Thor, Woden, Janus, etc.
  • What are the historical moorings of the Easter holiday?
  • What’s the best response to “Happy Easter!”
  • If breaking G-d’s commands was my habit before salvation, what should be after salvation?
  • How does one approach an Orthodox Jew who has heard about the Torah-breaking Jesus?
  • Should we kiss the ring of the Pope?
  • Should we bow before kings and other dignitaries?
  • Should I ignore those mitzvot which are associated with the Land or the Temple?
  • How many rituals or traditions of the church actually began with the Jews?
  • When I join myself to Israel, am I now Jewish?
  • If I know we had Jewish-type traditions growing up, does that mean I’m Jewish?
  • Who is a Jew?
  • How does my halachah bring glory to Yeshua HaMashiach?
  • What is the best response to Acts 10, Peter’s vision of the sheet?
  • What is the best response to Mark 7, Yeshua‘s declaring all foods clean?
  • What was the problem with the hand washing ritual practiced by the P’rushim during the Master’s day?
  • Should I wear a kippah all the time?
  • Doesn’t the Apostolic Writings about covering my head discourage or prohibit me from doing so?
  • Should we wear tzitzit all the time?
  • Should I buy a tallit?
  • Should I wrap tefillin?

The second focus of the day is curious. The Sages have long taught that we should study megillat haRut, the scroll of Ruth, on Shavuot. There are many reasons, but this is a good list. I remember the list by memorizing the words (katzir, kabbalat, chesed):

  1. The events of the scroll occur during the katzir (harvest) season. Shavuot is the harvest festival.
  2. Shavuot is regarded as the day the nation “received” the Torah (kabbalat haTorah) as Ruth’s story is an individual kabbalat haTorah.
  3. Megillat haRut teaches the greatness of gemillut chassadim, acts of loving-kindness (chesed).
  4. We honor David haMelech‘s yahrzeit (the anniversary of King David’s death) at Shavuot. The scroll ends with David’s lineage.

R. Ze’era declares,

The Scroll of Ruth tells us nothing of the laws of cleanness or uncleanness, of what is prohibited or what is permitted. Why then was it written? To teach you how great is the reward of those who do deeds of kindness. – Ruth Rabbah 2:14

Instead of teaching the intricacies of halachah, the scroll of Ruth teaches us the value of chesed, loving-kindness. A lesson we can all use today. So we read the whole megillah, and we either tear apart the text as we go, or we read it through and go back to study various portions. Not surprising, but just as we see new truths in the Torah during the parsha (weekly portion), each Torah cycle, the same thing occurs when we study Ruth.

Here’s a 10-year old short study, from the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, that I appreciate, to get you started in your study of Ruth this yearā€¦

Compare two scenes in the scroll (2:17-21 and 3:8-11) looking specifically for agents of chesed (loving-kindness). In the first scene, Ruth is returning from a successful day of gleaningā€¦

  1. What prompts Naomi’s initial excitement in this scene?
  2. What piece of information provides further proof of HaShem‘s kindness to Ruth and Naomi?
  3. How does Ruth corroborate this opinion?
  4. Who are the different agents of loving-kindness here, and who are the recipients of their kindness?

In the second scene, Boaz is approached by Ruth on the threshing floorā€¦

  1. Who is now showing whom kindness?
  2. To what could Boaz be referring when he mentions Ruth’s first kindness? Why would her attempt to marry Boaz be kinder than any previous demonstrations of this quality?
  3. Find the phrase in Boaz’s statement that matches a phrase from Naomi’s statement in Chapter 2. What does this teach about the way in which both of these people view human acts of kindness?

After studying meggilat haRut, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. Who wrote the Scroll of Ruth?
  2. During which historical period did the events of Megillat haRut occur?
  3. Who was Naomi’s husband?
  4. After she returned from Moav, by what name did Naomi ask to be called?
  5. How was Boaz related to Naomi?
  6. Into what did Boaz tell Ruth to dip her bread?
  7. Why is Elimelech‘s brother referred to as P’loni Almoni and not by his real name?
  8. With what object did Boaz redeem Elimelech‘s property?
  9. The people and the elders blessed Ruth that she should be like whom?
  10. What was Ruth’s relationship to King David?
  11. A Moabite may not marry into the congregation of HaShem” (Devarim 23:4). So according to the Sages, how was Boaz able to marry Ruth the Moabitess?

Whether you stay up late on Tuesday night, study all day Wednesday, or both – the tradition is to study that which we have received.

Perhaps the focus on Ruth may help us to understand more clearly the difference between the ger toshav and the ger tzedek. That is, the resident stranger amongĀ  Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) – and the righteous convert. The former is a goy (gentile) living “inst and amongst” G-d’s people without actually becoming a member of the community. Hence the focus on the words “alien,” “stranger,” or “foreigner.” The latter is a goy who has joined himself (forever) to G-d’s people.

Ruth is a lovely, G-d given picture of the ger tzedek – but we should note that the Scriptures only refer to her as, Rut haMoaviah (Ruth the Moabitess), never Ruth the Jewess. Now that’s something to ponder during Shavuot

Some other traditions of Shavuot:

  • This is the yahrzeit of the Baal Shem Tov, the father of the Chassidim.
  • We eat dairy (especially cheesecake and blintzes – yum!) because the day the Torah was given (Shavuot) was a Sabbath, so no animals could be slaughtered. Therefore, the children of Israel had a dairy meal that day.
  • The Hebrew word for milk is chalav, which has a numeric value of 40 – the number of days Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher) was on the mountain receiving the Torah. [nod to Rav Upham]
  • Because of the two-loaf bread offering on Shavuot, a small dairy meal often precedes the traditional holiday meat meal.

Use G-d’s instructions to build traditions for your family. When possible, join the greater, world-wide community of G-d’s obedient faithful in your practice and halachah.

Today is 46 days of the Omer, which is 6 weeks and 4 days. Remember, we’re only counting to 50!!! Four days left!

It is traditional to recite the shehecheyanu blessing:

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech haOlam,
she-he-chee-yanu v’ki-yi-manu vi-higi-yanu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, HaShem our G-d, King of the Universe,
who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.

May the Holy One, Blessed is He, grant you peace and bless you with all that is good.

Chag Semeach and Shabbos Tov,
Joyous Feast and Good Sabbath,

ben Yosef