Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Unfortunately, despite its great importance and seminal place in the Jewish calendar, Shavuot has become the orphan of Jewish holidays. Chanukah, a relatively minor holiday, gets much more attention. Passover? Great family time. High Holidays? Have to go to synagogue and expunge those sins and get written in the book of life for another year.
But Shavuot – that’s for the real religious. Nothing too exciting about this holiday.
And this is tremendously sad, because there is probably no more important holiday when it comes to defining who we Jews are and what we have taught humanity.
Shavuot is a bare bones holiday; it doesn’t have any specific mitzvot other than learning Torah, and that’s for a reason. It is about Torah, plain and simple, nothing more and nothing less. No Passover cleaning to distract you, nor any specifics of how much matzah to eat to fulfill the mitzvah; no finding a flawless lulav and etrog; no perfect Chanukah gift; no getting to shul early so you get a good seat for Yom Kippur.
No, none of that; just a return to the very essence of who and what we are, why we are here and what our greater obligation is to the world to make it a better place with the fundamental truths that we have given it. Shavuot is dusting off the wedding album and going back to the chuppah – the marriage canopy. Shavuot is about re-turning to that place where it all started and reminding ourselves of the true purpose of Torah and why God brought us to Sinai.
It’s about staying up all night as you lose yourself in the depth and meaning of Torah learning, recommitting yourself to the marriage the Jewish people entered with God at Mount Sinai.
Reasons for eating Dairy Foods on Shavout
There is a universal Jewish tradition of eating dairy foods on Shavuot. Various reasons have been suggest-ed, among them:
1. The Biblical book Song of Songs (4:11) refers to the sweet nourishing value of Torah by saying: “It drips from your lips, like honey and milk under your tongue.”
2. The verse in Exodus 23:19 juxtaposes the holiday of Shavuot with the prohibition of mixing milk and meat. On Shavuot, we, therefore, eat separate meals – one of milk and one of meat.
3. Upon receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jews immediately became obligated in the laws of Sh’chita – slaughter of animals. Since they did not have time to prepare kosher meat, they ate dairy in-stead.
4. The numerical value of milk – chalav – is 40. This hints to the 40 days that Moses spent atop Mount Sinai, and the 40 years the Jews spent wandering the desert.