Shavuot Part 4: Jewish rituals today.
Most of modern Jewish rituals are based on the traditional belief that Moses received the Torah on Shavuot.
In the Home: Unlike other Jewish feasts, there are no rituals prescribed by the rabbis for the home. But LIKE other Jewish holidays there are traditional foods. For Shavuot, dairy products are the standard fare. Why?
- God brought Israel out of Egypt and into a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8-17).
- The Beloved is described as having honey and milk under his tongue (Song of Solomon 4:11).
So cheese counters in Israel are overstocked with cheese of every variety for every taste. Dependent on culture of origin, family meals include:
- blintzes (crepes both sweet and salty),
- kreplachs (tri-cornered pastry with no agreement regarding its symbolism),
- cheesecakes (with lots of chocolate and fruit),
- braided challah (reminder of Jacob’s ladder).
Children love to decorate the home with garlands of greens and roses because it’s believed that Mt Sinai “suddenly” blossomed with flowers and because Moses was found in the reeds. Water-fights abound because the ancients say the Torah is like water! In the synagogue: Once before in Israel’s history the people tried to rectify a wrong. Despite God’s specific instructions, the people disobeyed and suffered defeat. Rather than waiting for God’s next instructions, they decided to try again (Numbers 14). We all love “do-overs” but obedience is the only way to have a successful second chance. Sadly it appears that the synagogue rituals for Shavuot are an attempt to “do over” Israel’s rebellion at Mt. Sinai. Israel started off well, agreeing to obey all that God had spoken:
Exodus 19:8 Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
After the people sanctified themselves for three days God’s presence came upon Mt. Sinai with thunder, smoke and lightning. But Israel responded badly to this incredible opportunity.
Exodus 20:18-21 Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”
And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.
But standing afar off wasn’t the worst decision Israel made at Sinai. Becoming impatient for Moses return, the people chose to create a god they could control; thus the Golden Calf. Since that time Israel’s history has been a cycle of repentance and commitment followed by rebellion. And yet, the Jewish people are fiercely proud of their heritage:
- the “Chosen” of God,
- God’s unique promises made only to them.
- the gift of the Torah which separated them from all the nations and peoples,.
As important as the Torah is in the life and identity of the Jewish people, much if not most of their theology and culture emanate not from the Torah but from the Talmud. They believe that God gave Moses BOTH the Torah and the Oral Law on Shavuot. Perhaps that’s their explanation for the 40 days duration of Moses on Mt. Sinai! So what are some of these traditional rituals?
- Believing Israel fell asleep while Moses was receiving the law, many Jews remain awake all night studying. Furthermore they believe that the skies open for a moment at midnight and God favorably hears and answers their prayers.
- The Book of Ruth is read.
- Ruth begins with the harvest.
- Ruth’s conversion to Judaism reflects Israel’s acceptance of the Torah.
- Ruth, a Gentile and a Moabite became a proselyte showing the preeminence of Judaism and God’s grace.
- Ruth is in the genealogy of David and it is believed that David was born and died on Shavuot.
At the Wall On the morning of Shavuot, June 15, 1967 Jews were finally allowed to go to the Wall. Thousands of Jews made their way to praise God and worship.  Since then a new tradition arose – waiting for the sunrise. Conclusion Traditions and rituals are fine, but not when they distract from God’s word. I don’t doubt that some of the Jewish people truly desire to know and obey God, but they are blinded by their concept of God. Just as the fathers created a god of comfort and convenience, a god they could control, often man-made traditions and veneration of the Talmud keeps them from recognizing the Torah in the flesh…Jesus. God promised Israel a better Torah, a better covenant and a better mediator.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
God fulfilled that promise on His feasts of Passover and Shavuot. Let us celebrate the ultimate gift – not the Torah written on stones, but of His love and law written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, Yeshua
 For an interesting article regarding the development of Shavuot rituals, see: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Shavuot/History/Modern/Few_Rituals.shtml