One of Judaism's three pilgrimage festivals (along with Passover and Sukkot), is Shavuot. This holiday marks the giving of the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testiment; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These books, also know as the 'The Law' make up Judaism's most basic scripture.
You'll recall that Moses received these at Mt. Sinai, seven weeks after the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. Shavuot literally means “weeks” and is celebrated exactly seven weeks after the first day of Passover, which marks the exodus itself.
You can read about it in Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10. Let me tell you what happens tonight right here in the Old City – and elsewhere of course.
After festive evening prayers with big festive meal, many people will follow the custom of staying awake all night and studying the religious texts, and then saying morning prayers at the earliest possible time. This is meant to expresses enthusiasm of the Jewish people to receive the Torah.
Here in Jerusalem, there is a widespread custom of going to the Western Wall, which is always crowded for Shavuot morning prayers. There is usually a good amount of dancing and singing there too.
The Shavuot morning prayers are marked by special hymns and scriptural readings, including the Book of Ruth. Memorial prayers for the dead are also said at this time.
In Biblical times, Shavuot marked the end of the barley harvest, and the beginning of the wheat harvest. Farmers brought their first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 26:1-11), where special offerings were brought (Numbers 28:26-31). Shavuot's status as the “Day of First Fruits” and the “Harvest Festival” (as it is referred to in Numbers 28:26 and Exodus 23:16) remind us as Christians of the Resurrection of Jesus – as He Himself was a representative 'first fruit' in the resurrection from the dead that we will all experience – that great harvest of God. Indeed in our Christian calendar, this is the time of the ascension of Jesus into heaven – 40 days after His crucifixion!
Middle East Correspondent