The holiday of Shavuot celebrates the Jewish people’s receival of the Torah after a culmination of 49 days of self-improvement. We celebrate Shavuot every year as if we are being given the Torah again. Shavuot begins this Sunday night, and with it will come many of its customs, each minhag with its own reason and significance. Here are some of the major and most followed rituals for the holiday of Shavuot:
Learning on Shavuot Night (Tikkun Leil Shavuot)- We stay up the whole Shavuot night as a means to rectify a mistake our ancestors made during the first Shavuot. The night before the Jews would receive the Torah, they went to sleep and did not wake up in time for the giving of the Torah. As a way to correct this mistake, we stay up all night learning Torah to show that our enthusiasm for the Torah is not lacking at all.
Eating Dairy- There are many reasons as to why our Shavuot is filled with dairy meals, from blintzes to cheesecake, there is a custom to eat dairy. One explanation is that on Shavuot, a sacrifice with two loaves of bread was brought, so we eat both a dairy and meat meal to commemorate the offering. Another reason for eating dairy is that since the Torah was given on Shabbat, the Jews were unable to Kasher their utensils or shecht animals, so they ate dairy. We eat dairy today to commemorate this.
Flowers and Greenery- One reason for placing flowers throughout the shul is to commemorate the miracle that took place in the desert, where the barren and dry sand and mountain of Har Sinai became fertile land with greenery. The placement of these plants also serves as a reminder to pray for fertile land, as the Mishna states that Shavuot is the day Hashem judges how abundant greenery will be for the rest of the year.
Megilat Ruth- Shavuot is both the birthday and yahrzeit of Dovid Hamelech, whose grandparents were Ruth and Boaz. Furthermore, Shavuot is the festival of harvest, and harvesting is mentioned a lot in the story of Ruth. Lastly, Ruth, who was a convert, represents all Jews on Shavuot who became converts and accepted the Torah, so we read the Megillah on the day of Shavuot.
By: Herschel Karp