Chag Shavuot

שבעות חג, Chag Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, is a major festival. It’s the second of the three Shalosh Regalim (pilgrimage festivals) that comes exactly fifty days after Passover. It marks the giving of the Torah, by HaShem, to Israel on Mount Sinai 3,332 years ago.

Now although we know that the Torah was given on the 6th of Sivan, during the time when the calendar was fixed by eyewitnesses to the new moon, the fiftieth day, Shavuot, could fall on the 5th, 6th, or 7th of Sivan.

Unlike the other festivals, whose calendar dates are specified in the Torah, Shavuot is not necessarily celebrated on the sixth of Sivan, the anniversary of the Giving of the Torah; it is celebrated on the fiftieth day after the beginning of the counting of the Omer. Thus, before the institution of a fixed calendar, when the first day of each Jewish month was determined by the testimony of witnesses who had seen the new moon, Shavuot could also be celebrated on the fifth of Sivan or on the seventh . Nonetheless, now that the calendar is no longer variable, Shavuot always coincides with the 6th of Sivan.

Other names  that apply to Shavuot:

Feast of Weeks
Shavuot Devarim (Deuteronomy) 16:10

Feast of harvest (cutting)
Chag HaKazir Shemot (Exodus) 23:16

Day of First fruits
Yom HaBikkurim Bamidbar (Numbers) 28:26

Day of the Congregation
Yom HaKahal Devarim (Deuteronomy) 18:16

The Sixth Day
Bereshit (Genesis) 1:31. Rashi, commenting on Bereshit (Genesis) 1:31, notes that the only day of creation to be called “very good” was ‘The sixth day’ (as opposed to a second day, a third day, etc.), since Shavuot occurs on Sivan 6, and is the only festival to occur on the sixth day of the month. So, Shavuot is alluded to in the creation account as very good. 

In Shavuot the Book of Ruth is read because:

1. The timing of its events occurred ‘at the beginning of the barley harvest,’ and this period is also the time of Shavuot’ (Abudraham).

2. `The reading of Ruth on Shavuot is a reminder of the stand at Sinai, to the seven previous Noachide Laws. The numerical value of Hebrew letters which comprise the word Ruth is six hundred and six’ (Teshu’ot Chen). When we add the seven Noachide laws, we get 613, the number of Commands received at Mt. Sinai.

3. ‘From her very birth, Ruth was worthy of accepting upon herself the yoke of mitzvot; and the very letters of her name bear witness to it. The letters for Ruth add up to six hundred and six which together with the seven Noachide Laws add up to six hundred and thirteen’ (the Gaon of Vilna).

4. Megilath Ruth was written by the Prophet Samuel, to indicate the genealogy of Kind David for Ruth the Moabite. We learn from the writing of this Megilah that there was Divine assent in the matter, for the end of the Megilah recounts David’s ancestry and David was born on Shavuot and died on Shavuot.

5.Just as the process leading to our receiving the Torah was filled with pain and trying times, so too the path that Ruth took to receiving the Torah was filled with the same.

It is customary to stay awake the full night on Erev Shavuot (which we call Jagran )  when we read chapters from the Torah, Prophets, Writings (Tanach).

It is a custom of Israel to eat dairy foods on the festival of Shavuot. The reason for this custom is because, on the festival of Shavuot, all the parts and commandment of the Torah were revealed to Israel (As Rav Sa’adyah Gaon wrote, that the ten commandments include all the commandments of the Torah). Thus, when Bnei Israel returned from Mount Sinai, they were not able to cook and eat meat because the meat needed much preparation: slaughtering with a knife checked for nicks, checking the meat, picking out the fat, salting, and rinsing the meat to remove the blood. They also could not cook meat in their old vessels, because they cooked foods in them before the giving of the Torah that were not kosher, such as meat and milk together. Thus, they had to eat dairy foods whose preparations do not require as much work, and in memory of that, we also eat dairy foods. There are those who have a custom to eat milk and honey on Shavuot, because our holy Torah is compared to milk and honey, as it says (Shir HaShirim 4:11) “Honey and milk under your tongue.”

Even though we have the custom of eating dairy foods on Shavuot, it is also a commandment to eat meat on the festival of Shavuot as well, for there is no joy without meat and wine. It is also proper to be stringent and eat the meat of an animal, for there is no joy without the meat of an animal. If he does not want to eat meat, or if  meat is bad for his health, then he should eat the meat of a bird. One must be careful not to eat dairy foods within six hours of eating meat; instead he should eat the dairy foods first and after wiping and rinsing one’s mouth properly, he may eat meat. There are those who have the custom of eating meat on the night of Shavuot and dairy for the meal on the day of Shavuot.