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Although there is no really accurate way to measure the relative importance of the holidays of the Jewish calendar year, I think that we can all agree that the holiday of Shavuot appears to be the least dramatic of them all. The Torah describes it as an agricultural feast day commemorating the grain harvest and the greening of the first fruits of the season as an offering in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Jewish tradition and rabbinic sanction has emphasized and label the holiday as the anniversary of the granting of the Torah to the Jewish people by God at the revelation at Mount Sinai. With the absence of the Temple, the holiday has taken on this commemoration as the center point of its observance.
Secular Zionism attempted to restore the primacy of its agricultural component in commemorating the holiday but was singularly unsuccessful. So, even today in the Land of Israel, once again fruitful and bountiful, this agricultural aspect of the holiday is still very secondary to its historical commemoration of the revelation at Sinai. And in this there is an important lesson that repeats itself throughout Jewish history.
The great Gaon, Saadya, succinctly summed up this message when he stated: “Our nation – the Jewish people – is a nation only by virtue of its Torah.” All of the other facets of our nationhood exist only because of this central historical moment – the granting of the Torah to the Jewish people by God through Moshe at the mountain of Sinai. This was and is the pivotal moment in all of Jewish history. Everything else that has occurred to us over these three and a half millennia has direct bearing and stems from that moment in Jewish and human history.
Therefore it should be no wonder as to why the holiday of Shavuot is the day of commemoration of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Looking back over the long centuries of our existence, we can truly appreciate how we have been preserved, strengthened and enhanced in every way by our studied application of Torah in every facet of our personal and communal lives.
Those who forsook the values and denied the divinity of Torah fell by the wayside of history and are, in the main, no longer part of our people. Unlike Pesach and Succot, Shavuot carries with it no special ritual or commandments. It certainly is the least dramatic of all the holidays of the Jewish calendar. But, rather, it represents the every day in Jewish life – dominated by study and observance of Torah and its eternal values.
The name of the holiday means “weeks” – units of time that measure our progress on this earth. It is not only the seven weeks from Pesach to Shavuot that is being referred to, but rather we are reminded of all of the weeks of our lives that compose our stay in this world. Time has importance to us when we deem it to be meaningful and well spent. The purpose of Torah, so to speak, was and is to accomplish just that. And therefore the day of commemoration of the granting of the Torah to Israel is very aptly named for it is the Torah that gives meaning to our days and weeks.
The customs of the holiday also reference the scene at Mount Sinai on the day of revelation. Eating dairy foods, decorating the synagogue and the home with flowers and greens, and all night Torah study sessions have all become part of the commemoration of the holiday itself. They all relate to Sinai and the revelation. The Jewish people, through long experience and centuries of analysis have transformed this seemingly physical agricultural holiday into the realm of spirituality and eternal history.
On this day of festivity we are granted an insight into the past and the future at one and the same time. We are able to unlock the secrets of our survival and eternity as a nation, and as the prime force in human civilization for these many millennia. So it is the holiday of Shavuot that grants true meaning and necessary legitimacy to all of the other holidays of the Jewish calendar year.
Shavuot is the cornerstone of the entire year, for without it all the days of celebration and commemoration remain devoid of spirituality and eternity. It does not require for itself any special commandments or observances because it is the foundation of all commemorations throughout Jewish life and time.
Chag sameach
Berel Wein

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