Jews throughout the world recently celebrated the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is one of the three major Jewish festivals and comes exactly fifty days after Passover. After being redeemed from Egyptian slavery, the Jews arrived on Mount Sinai and received the Torah from God. This wonderful event took place 3,316 years ago.
The word Shavuot means “weeks.” It marks the completion of the seven weeks, 49 days, between Passover and Shavuot during which the Jewish people prepared themselves for the giving of the Torah. During this time period they prepared themselves spiritually and entered into an eternal covenant with God with the giving of the Torah.
Shavuot also means “oaths.” With the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people and God exchanged oaths, forming an everlasting covenant, not to forsake one another. Every year on this day we celebrate and renew our acceptance of God’s gift and our eternal bond with Him.
There are several interesting customs associated with this holiday. We stay up all night learning Torah, read the Ten Commandments and the book of Ruth, and eat milk products, especially cheesecake.
The custom of learning is especially fitting for the holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah. The custom of dairy products seems surprising. Among the different explanations given for this custom, one points out that the Hebrew word for milk is chalav. When the numerical value of the letters in this word are added together – 8; 30; 2 – the total is forty. Forty hints to the number of days Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah.
I would like to present another, perhaps more personal and spiritual reason for this custom. Unlike meat that nourishes the flesh, milk is full of calcium which nourishes the bones. The Hebrew for bones is “Atzmot תמוצע ” which is also the word that means “essence.” This custom hints to the fact that on this holiday we absorb the Torah which nourishes our essence.
Additionally, milk is the most basic of foods that a nursing mother shares with her infant. The mother literally gives of her essence and nurtures the essence of the baby. This relationship parallels the personal bond and love that a mother shares with her child.
On Shavuot we celebrate the personal relationship that we have with God, when He gives over His essence, the Torah, and we absorb it into the essence of our soul.