Shavuot 2017 begins at sunset on Tuesday, May 30 and ends on the evening of Thursday, June 1.

What is Shavuot?

Shavuot , the feast of weeks, is celebrated seven weeks after the second Passover seder. Although Shavuot began as an ancient grain harvest festival, the holiday has been identified since biblical times with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

What are some customs and practices for Shavuot?

– To commemorate the giving of the Torah at Sinai there is a tradition of staying up all night studying Jewish texts in what is called a Tikkun.

– On Shavuot the Book of Ruth is read.

– Traditionally dairy foods are eaten on Shavuot.

– In order to mark the agricultural history of Shavuot, some decorate their house and synagogues with a floral theme.

Shavuot is also the celebration of the wheat harvest and the ripening of the first fruits, which is the reason for the other two biblical names for this holiday: 1) “Yom Habikurim” or the “Day of the First Fruits.” 2) “ChagHaKatzir,” the “Harvest Festival.”

In the Talmud, Shavuot is also called “Atzeret,” which means “The Stoppage,” a reference to the prohibition against work on this holiday.

The Ten Commandments—Not Multiple Choice

 

Often, I hear people say, “Well, I am not all that religious, but I do keep the Ten Commandments.” At such times I’m tempted to say, “Really? You do know that The Ten Commandments are not multiple choice . . .” I sometimes wonder if the people who glibly make that claim actually know what the Ten Commandments are . . .

Moses reviews the Big Ten in the Torah in Deuteronomy. Why not go through the list, so we can all get a better idea of how we score?

1) I am the L‑rd thy G‑d. Basically, this is the command to believe in one G‑d. I have every confidence that we all get full marks on this one.

2) Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Okay, so you don’t make a habit of bowing down to that bust of the Buddha in your living room. The question is, should it be there in the first place? And isn’t it interesting that today we have all these “Idols” competitions being run around the world. Then, of course, there are all those well-established contemporary idols we tend to ogle and worship, celebrities like Brad Pitt, Madonna, Donald Trump, or even (Heaven protect me) Oprah.

3) Do not take the name of G‑d in vain. This is not only about taking oaths or swearing in court. What about swearing in the street? How many choice four-letter words are in your vocabulary? And why drag G‑d into those graphic expressions?

4) Observe the Shabbat day to keep it holy. Interestingly, the Ten Commandments appear twice in the Torah. In Exodus, the fourth Commandment begins with Zachor—Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. This week, we read Shamor—Observe the Sabbath day. “Remembering” is achieved through positive acts such as kiddush, candle-lighting, etc. “Observing” Shabbos, to guard it from any desecration, is the hard part. It may cramp our current lifestyles. That is where true commitment comes in.

5) Honor thy father and thy mother. Many people do indeed fulfill this mitzvah in exemplary fashion. I stand in admiration of sons, daughters, and often in-laws, who care for and tend to the needs of an aged parent or parent-in-law. They shlep, they cook, they humor and often tolerate irritable, cantankerous elders. This commandment seems to get more difficult as time progresses. Yet the Torah makes no distinctions based on age. It is our responsibility to look after our parents when they are dependent on us, as they looked after us when we were dependent on them.

6) Thou shalt not murder. Well done. Here’s another easy one to fulfill. I’m sure not one of you reading this ever murdered anyone. You thought of doing it, you almost did it, but, in the end, Jews are not the murdering type. We can safely tick another one.

7) Thou shalt not commit adultery. Umm . . . Let’s move on the to next one.

8) Thou shalt not steal. Strictly speaking, this refers to kidnapping in particular. However, all stealing—including the white-collar methods—is included.

9) Thou shalt not bear false witness. How truthful are we? Even if we are not under oath, our word should be sacred. I remember hearing an old rabbi being introduced to a group of university students simply as a “man who never told a lie.” How many of us could make that claim?

10) Thou shalt not covet. Not easy either. Commentaries define this injunction as a prohibition on badgering someone, or conniving, to acquire—even legally—that which belongs to another. Go get your own. Why must it be his spouse, house or car?

There you have it. Did you score full marks? Did you pass, or are you in the forty-percent-or-less bracket? Worth working on, isn’t it? Hopefully, we can all improve our score, and one day claim with justification that we really do observe the Ten Commandments.

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