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The Holiday of Shavuos has four different names: The Festival of Shavuos, Atzeret, Chag Ha Bikurim, and Chag Ha Katzir.
NAMES FOR THE HOLIDAY
The Holiday of Shavuos has four different names:
1. The Festival of Shavuos (Weeks) Biblical ref: Exodus, 34:22; Deuteronomy 16- 9:11; Leviticus, 23:15.
During 210 years of Egyptian bondage, our forefathers descended to 49 levels of impurity. With the Exodus, G-d not only redeemed them from slavery, but from spiritual debasement as well. The 49 levels of degradation were taken over by 49 levels of elevation. With each day, our ancestors rose to new spiritual heights, counting 49 days, 7 full Weeks, until revelation took place and G-d proclaimed His commandments.
Every Jewish soul was present at Sinai, and every Jew declared
Na`asei V`nishma - We will do and we will listen...' As the Torah testifies, this Covenant is eternal: "Not with our forefathers alone did HaShem seal this covenant but with us - we who are here - all of us alive today" (Deuteronomy 5-3) - meaning all future generations are bound by this Covenant.
Shavuos can also be pronounced Shevuos, meaning ìoaths' for at this time we recall the two oaths made at Sinai; one by G-d, declaring us His special, eternal people; the second taken by us, pledging our allegiance to G-d.
Interestingly, the prayer book refers to the holiday of Shavuos as Zman Matan Torasenu - the season of the Giving of the Torah,' for indeed, that is the dominant theme of the festival. The Torah however, speaks of the Holiday of Weeks, teaching us that there can never be a season for the giving of the Torah. It is eternal and dominates every season, every week, every day, and every moment.
The Talmud refers to the holiday as Atzeret - Concluding Festival', for Shavuos is the culmination of Passover. G-d redeemed us from Egypt, not merely to secure our physical freedom, but to bring us to the heights of Sinai, so that we might become His witnesses here on earth.
3. Holiday of the First Fruits - Chag Ha Bikurim Biblical ref: Exodus 23
The first fruit harvest was celebrated by our ancestors at this time, and they would bring their newly ripened fruit to the Temple as an expression of thanksgiving.
4. The Festival of Harvest - Chag Ha Katzir Biblical ref: Exodus 23
This season marked the harvest of the wheat, the last grain harvest of the season.
CUSTOMS OF SHAVUOS
Tikun Leil Shavuos (Staying up the entire night of Shavuos). When HaShem was about to give the Torah to B`nei Yisroel, they had to be awakened by Moshe. To symbolically rectify that shortcoming, we stay up the entire night and learn Torah. We call this tikkun' (fixing our mistakes). Thus the name, tikun leil Shavuos. These studies should include passages from the written and oral law as well as from the book of Zohar.
Dedicating the night of Shavuos to the Torah purifies and elevates oneís soul.
It is written that whoever does not sleep on this night and devotes himself to Torah study is assured of completing the year free from all harm.
It is the custom for fathers to begin teaching the Torah to their children on Shavuos since the Torah was given on that day.
Eating Dairy (Milchigs)
In keeping with the holiday, it is proper to serve dairy dishes (blintzes, cheese kreplach, etc. dipped in honey. This is symbolized in the verse: Honey and milk are under your tongue' (Song of Songs 4:11) - honey and milk are being metaphors for the Torah. The dairy meal is served prior to the meat meal with at least one hour interval between the meals. Chalav' the Hebrew word for milk or dairy has a gematria (numerical value) of forty (Ches=8, lamed=30, beis=2). Since Moshe Rabbenu spent forty days on Mt. Sinai, we eat dairy on Shavuos. Yet another reason is that since the laws of the Torah require ritual slaughter (shechita) and the Bínei Yisroel required new vessels for food preparation, preparing and eating meat would be very time consuming. Dairy food was more readily available.
Flowers and Greenery: Since Har Sinai - Mt. Sinai in the desert bloomed with flowers and trees, it is customary to decorate the synagogue and oneís home with greens and flowers.
The Poem of Akdamus: Recited the first day of Yom Tov. Akdamus means Introduction'. The author, Rabbi Meir Ben Yitzchok, as the Rebbe of Rashi, praises the glory of HaShem before we read the Ten Commandments.
Akdamas: If all the skies were parchment, if all the sea was ink, if all the trees were quills, if all the people were scribes, still, there would not be enough parchment, ink, quills or people to praise the Torah of HaShem.
THE TORAH READING FOR THE FESTIVAL OF SHAVUOS IS TAKEN FROM THE BOOK OF EXODUS AND CONTAINS THE ACCOUNT OF THE GIVING OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
On the second day of Shavuos (Monday), Yizkor is recited in the synagogue for the souls of those who are no longer here. The Book of Ruth, written by the Prophet Samuel is also read. Ruth is the righteous convert who has become the historic role model for all those who seek G-d. She was rewarded with the ultimate gift - becoming the ancestress of David, King of Israel. The following is one of the most poignant passages from the Book of Ruth: For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people are my people, and your G-d is my G-d. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.'
The book of Psalms is also read on Shavuos, for it was on Shavuos that David, the author of the Book of Psalms was born and died.
We light candles on Saturday evening, May 23rd, 9:01pm and on Sunday evening, May 24th, not before 9:02pm and recite the following blessings before kindling the holiday lights:
On Saturday and Sunday evening:
1. Bo-ruch A-toh Ado-noi, E-lo-hei-nu Meílech Ho-olom, A-sher ki-di-shonu be- mitz-vo-sov, Ve-tzi-vo-nu, Le-had-lik ner, shel Yom Tov.
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by his commandments and commanded us to kindle the holiday lights.
2. Bo-ruch A-toh Ado-noi E-lo-hei-nu Meílech Ho-olom, she-heche-yo-nu, ve-ki-mo- nu ve-hege-o-nu, lazman hazeh.
Blessed art are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and preserved us, and enabled us to reach this season.