Like most people, I would imagine, my first thoughts upon learning that the Memorial Day weekend here in America would coincide with the festival of Shavuot this year were not happy ones. Three-day weekends are a precious commodity, even for rabbis. Giving one up for three days of Shabbat and Yom Tov was simply not a fair exchange. I’m sure that I like being in synagogue a little more than the average bear, but really… on Memorial Day weekend?
Some people get ready for Shavuot by making blintzes. Some draft notes on the text to be taught or learned in the wee hours of the morning at one of the all-night sessions during which the giving of the Torah at Sinai is celebrated through study.
And some congregate on Twitter, the micro-blogging website on which posts can be no longer than 140 characters, composing their own tweets of Torah, reading others’ efforts and furiously re-tweeting.
Last Friday after sunset, Jewish worshipers recited the traditional prayer over the counting of the Omer, the seven-week period between the second day of Passover and Shavuot. The count that night was 42. Or it could have been Jackie Robinson, Ronnie Lott or Connie Hawkins, depending on if you were a baseball, football or basketball fan.
Unlike with other Jewish holidays, the Torah does not specify a date for Shavuot; it is celebrated on the 50th day (seven weeks) after Passover. We moderns celebrate Shavuot on the sixth day of the month of Sivan (this year, May 27-28).
Equally strange, the actual date on which the Torah was given is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. We know more or less when it was, but no exact date is given. This is true even though the dates of many other events, all surely of far lesser importance, are written explicitly in the Torah.
At a time when we are keenly aware of the deep divisions within the Jewish community on issues from religious practice to the policies of the State of Israel, along comes the festival of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, with the most unifying theme in Jewish life: the giving of the Torah, the central, foundational text of our history and people, at Mount Sinai.
Most of the Jewish community celebrated Shavuot, the holiday that marks the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, in mid-June.
Some residents of Israel, including the Black Hebrews of Dimona, celebrated Shavuot a few weeks later.
The group, like the Karaites and Samaritans, who also recognize only the Torah but not the Oral Law as a source for their traditions, count Shavuot as occurring on the Sunday seven weeks after the Sunday of Passover.
I tend to stick to pareve desserts for most of the year – it’s just easier when it comes to Shabbat meals and often during the week.
But Shavuot – that is the time to dream of rich cheesecakes, sweet blintzes and decadent danishes. I certainly have grand cheesecake plans for this year, it is also nice to indulge in a touch of dairy desserts without going overboard. These red velvet cupcakes, with a sweet and creamy frosting, hit the spot.