Our Story as a people of God
My family always goes to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. As long as my people can remember, this has been our tradition. The priests tell us how to prepare, and we bring our gifts with us. Every year, my father tells us all over again why we have to do this. I like it because we get to take a trip, and it’s in the spring when it is so beautiful outside, and we walk with lots of our friends, and I only get to see some of my friends on festival trips to the Holy City.
Shavuot is important to us for 2 reasons—it’s when we celebrate the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel (Exodus 34:22). This is a really important thing for us, because it helps us remember how God takes care of us and it commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai.
Originally preached Sunday, May 20, 2018
My father tells us that it is important for us to use the right words— that the holiday is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. The sages point out that we are always receiving the Torah, that we receive it every day, but it was first given at this time. So it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday so important for us.
It is one of the three times we travel to Jerusalem to celebrate. It comes at the end of the Counting of the Omer—the Torah demands the seven-week Counting of the Omer, beginning on the second day of Passover. My father tells us that this counting of days and weeks is to help us anticipate and desire for the giving of the Torah. On Passover, the people of Israel were freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh; on Shavuot they were given the Torah and became a nation committed to serving God. The word Shavuot means weeks, and the festival of Shavuot marks the completion of the seven-week counting period between Passover and Shavuot, so sometimes we call it “The Festival of Weeks.”
Shavuot was also the first day on which people could bring the Bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Bikkurim were brought from the Seven Species for which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. We always help Father harvest and save these for our offerings. We only grow wheat and barley in our field, so we trade with some of our neighbors because we want to bring EVERYTHING we can!
Because it is so important to give God our very best, we tie a reed around the first fruits that ripen in our fields. At the time of harvest, the fruits identified by the reed are the ones we cut and place in our special baskets woven of gold and silver. Then we load the baskets on oxen whose horns are gilded and laced with garlands of flowers. We join in a grand procession to Jerusalem. As we pass through cities and towns, the people play music and children and their parents make parades as we pass by. It is so exciting!
When we get to the Temple in Jerusalem, each farmer presents his offerings to a priest in a ceremony that follows our tradition from the book of Deuteronomy 26:1–10.
We remember and tell
We remember our ancestors and tell their story:
It starts by saying: “My father was a wandering Aramean,” reminding us that Jacob was a penniless wanderer in the land of Aram for 20 years.
Then we retell the history of our people as they went into exile in Ancient Egypt and were enslaved and oppressed; and then God redeemed them and brought them to the land of Israel.
The ceremony of First Fruits is how we show our gratitude to God both for the first fruits of the field and for His guidance in our lives. My father says that we always need to remind ourselves because our history also tells the stories of people who forgot and were disobedient to God.
But THIS YEAR, our holy journey turned out very different from any other one.