A CHEESY JEWISH HOLIDAY
by Rabbi Moishe Kievman
At a unique crossroads between religion and cuisine, the Holiday of Shavuot, celebrating the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai some 3,335 years ago, has become a celebration of fine dairy cuisine as well. Shavuot is celebrated for two days, this year beginning at sundown on Thursday, May 25, 2023 and ending at nightfall on Saturday, May 27.
50 days after leaving Egypt on Passover, the Jewish people received the Torah from G-d at Mount Sinai on the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot literally means “weeks” and marks the completion of the seven-week counting period between Passover and Shavuot. Shavuot customs include all-night Torah study, listening to the recitation of the Ten Commandments, the reading of the Book of Ruth, eating dairy products and adorning the home with flowers.
With the giving of the Torah, the Jews became obligated to observe the kosher laws. As the Torah was given on Shabbat, no cattle or poultry could be slaughtered, nor could we make sure that the animal’s insides were healthy and then properly cleaned out as is required in order for the meat to be kosher. In addition, utensils could not be koshered, and as such we ate dairy. Exquisite cheesecakes, pesto pastas, lasagna, souffles and of course, cheese blintzes all take center stage during this ancient celebration.
When thinking Jewish Holidays, Passover, Chanukah and Yom Kippur usually come to mind first. Nevertheless, Shavuot is considered one of Judaism’s main holidays and was in fact a “pilgrimage” when all of Israel would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate in the Temple in Jerusalem.
No, it isn’t all about the food. Especially in a year like the one we are currently in, when we remember the Hakhel gatherings that took place in Jerusalem, what is important is that the community is joining together, hearing the Ten Commandments and celebrating the Torah. But the good food certainly helps.
The tradition to learn all night has been practiced ever since we received the Torah. On the very night before G-d gave the Torah, we went to sleep, waking late in the morning. As a symbolic rectification for this, Jews customarily stay awake studying Torah until the morning, on the first night of Shavuot, this year on Thursday night.
Since we all stood at Mount Sinai, we must all reaffirm our commitment. On Friday, May 26th, the Ten Commandments will be read aloud from the Torah. Special emphasis is placed on including the entire Jewish family, including little babies, the way the Torah’s giving was attended by every Jewish man, woman and child.
The word Torah means “instruction” or “guide.” The Torah guides our every step and move through its 613 mitzvahs. The word mitzvah means both “commandment” and “connection.” Through the study of Torah and fulfillment of mitzvahs, we connect ourselves and our environment to G‑d. G‑d’s purpose in creating the world was that all of creation be sanctified, imbuing it with holiness and spirituality.
Since Shavuot is also called the “Harvest Festival,” it is customary to adorn the home with fruits, flowers and greens.
Most of us are, thank G-d, able to get out and celebrate the way we have for over three thousand years. But for those that are for whatever reason staying home, that should in no way stop you from celebrating the holiday, since most of the holiday is super easy to celebrate even while at home alone. Not going to work ✓ Eating dairy ✓ Praying the special holiday prayers ✓ Studying Torah all night ✓ Decorating the home with flowers ✓ The only things that we can’t do without a quorum, are hearing the Ten Commandments read from the Torah and praying with a minyan. But you can still study the Ten Commandments from a Torah Book, known as a Chumash ✓. And you can still read Yizkor, even without a minyan ✓.
To learn more about Shavuot and the many customs associated with it, visit www.ChabadChayil.org/Shavuot. There you can also get delicious dairy & dairy-like recipes, send free holiday greeting cards, download the prayers & suggested all night Torah study.
If you are able to go out, then you should certainly make sure to attend services this holiday, at least to hear the Ten Commandments read from the Torah on Friday morning, and of course to thank G-d that you’re feeling well. Of course you are welcome to join us at the Family Shul in Highland Lakes. For the full schedule call (305) 770-1919 or visit TheFamilyShul.com.
About the author:
Rabbi Kievman is the ambassador of The Rebbe to Highland Lakes, FL. He’s founder of CHAP – an afterschool program for Jewish children in Public Schools, rabbi at The Family Shul & together with his wife directs Chabad Chayil. He can be reached at (305) 770-1919 or rabbi@ChabadChayil.org