Shhh! It’s a Holy Day

This coming Saturday night will see immense numbers of Jews studying Scripture until sunrise.  They will be observing the sixth of the month of Sivan, Shavuot 5778, the 3,330th anniversary of the events described in Exodus 19, when God handed over His book to Moses.

What happened on Shavuot plays a crucial role in the daily lives of Jews.  For instance, every circumcision of a Jewish male infant commemorates God’s gift of the Torah. Without that Scriptural commandment, it is extremely unlikely that this minor operation would have been so consistently performed on every Jewish male. 

Every time a Jew declines bacon with his morning eggs, he is recognizing that most important event of Jewish history which took place on Shavuot.  Jewish marriages are properly solemnized,  “…according to the laws of Moses and Israel,” once again with a firm foundation in what took place on Shavuot. 

It is therefore puzzling that Shavuot, the day on which God presented the Bible, gets trumped in popularity by other festivals that wouldn’t even be celebrated at all were it not for that Bible.  For example, many more American Jews celebrate Passover than celebrate Shavuot.  Many more Jews celebrate Chanukah than celebrate Shavuot.  It is hard to think of a holiday bearing greater religious significance than Shavuot; it is also hard to think of a Jewish holiday that gets less attention.  Just try asking a non-observant Jewish acquaintance about Shavuot—you’re likely to get a puzzled look in return.  Why are so many Jews indifferent to Shavuot?

A clue to the obscurity of Shavuot is that the festivals that are most popular are those that lend themselves to secularization, which is to say, they can be observed with neither mentioning nor thinking about God.

For instance, Passover allows a secular observance.  For many American Jews it has become little more than a family reunion; the dinner table distinguished chiefly by a symbolic box of matzo and a little more wine than usual.  Any discussion, if it takes place at all, tends to focus on the universal aspects of freedom.  Moses against Pharaoh in Egypt is just another Fidel against Batista in Cuba.  Entirely ignored is the Almighty’s role in redemption.   Evidently, keeping it secular keeps it comfortable; and popular. 

Chanukah is equally comfortable since it too allows a secular expression.  Bring light into the world by the symbolic candle lighting, exchange gifts and celebrate the unusual Jewish military victory against the Greeks.  This way, nobody need be disconcerted by divisive ideas about the spiritual tension between secular Athens and holy Jerusalem.  The religious nature of the Macabee’s struggle can be ignored because there are safe symbols to preoccupy us.  It is such bad form to bring God into everything, isn’t it?

Shavuot however, is awkward.  There is simply no secular rationale for celebrating it.  Getting together for Shavuot observance is a tacit confession that one believes in God and in His Message to mankind delivered through Moses on Sinai.  There is no option but to celebrate it as the day that God asserted His authority over us.  What fun!

The problem is that the self-indulgent credo of a secular society is “reject authority.”  Eventually much of a population becomes indoctrinated to the absurd notion that doing anything that you don’t really want to do is somehow a betrayal of your true self.  Without God, a secular society gradually loses its sense that there is greatness in service to others. 

If serving others is menial then don’t be surprised by gradual deterioration of marriage and families.  After all, few men voluntarily wish to restrict their sexual options and still fewer wish to dedicate themselves to supporting a woman and her offspring emotionally, physically and financially.  Men gradually forget that overcoming the selfish instinct is the path to greatness. 

Furthermore, men who can no longer respond to an order with the words, “Yes sir!” are men on the road to poverty.  Sometimes the most important lesson of one’s first job is nothing more than learning how to obey the boss who hired you.  The road to greater responsibility is learning that one can only acquire authority by being able to accept it.

One of the main differences between a nation comfortable in its Judeo-Christian heritage and one struggling to reject it is how its people accept authority.  Do they manufacture bumper stickers that proclaim “question authority!” or do they train children to obey parents, students to venerate teachers, husbands to revere their wives, and soldiers to follow their commanders.  And do those authorities show that they’re worthy of respect and obedience by themselves accepting a ‘higher authority’?

Shavuot serves as an annual infusion of ‘authority medicine’.  The holiday possesses little else around which we can structure a symbolism and an escape from the uncomfortable reality of our Divine Boss.  The reality of the Bible itself helps us learn to subjugate our instincts and restrain our appetites.  It starts, for many, with banishing sleep for one entire night while poring over the pages of that book, God’s great gift to humanity and the foundation of civilization.

There are myriad benefits to growing up with a knowledge of the Bible. One drawback is that sometimes we don’t look at it with sophisticated eyes, instead keeping a childhood image. Take a new look at the Ten Commandments with our audio CD and discover God’s gift for successful living in these special verses.

23 thoughts on “Shhh! It’s a Holy Day”

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Lynn–
      We try to steward your time and do our best to convey most value in least words

  1. Brian F. Tucker

    Again thank you Rabbi. As usual your message conveys much more than I can focus on. As I said I’ve followed the same procedures for as long as L can rember. Boy would L have been disappointed if Santa had not brought me that toy train for my 5th Christmas. But I couldn’t help but wonder how many opportunities we miss to teach our kids about why we celebrate the holidays. You always give me something to think about. You’ll notice I said we not they.

  2. Brian F. Tucker

    Until now I had never heard of Shavuot. But I will be looking for it from now on. I must say that you are not alone in your dismay of others. An overwhelming majority of both secular and devout Christians treat Christmas and Easter the same way. We ply our children with fairy tales about rabbits that lay eggs and old men dress in red driving a sleigh full of toys, pulled by flying reindeer. When we should be teaching the the bible. Even when the kids are grown we spend those days feasting and watching and watching our favorite sports programs. Now, I know I am pointing a finger and that there are three fingers pointing back at me. I’ve been guilty of the same behavior for most of my life. Thanks to your article I shall now endeavor to change my attitude and my behavior. I hope it’s not too late.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      What! No Father Christmas! What next? But seriously Brian, I don’t want to give the impression of dismay of others. I am far more dismayed at myself. As for others, many of those ignorant of Shavuot live lives of generosity and joy. So, I am not judging. While it is sometimes too late to, say, catch a flight, it is never too late to grow, change, and aspire.

  3. Wonderful words of wisdom but I almost didn’t get it. My computer disqualified me from access, something about your security?? . Are you aware of this.?? I am horrified that internet would not allow access to this website.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Sharon–
      We’ll try inquire from our IT people as to what could possibly have caused this. Sorry you had a scare.

      1. The hosting company had a glitch that has been corrected. It wasn’t a breach of security but a mistake that showed a number of companies, including us, as no longer active. Everything is fixed now. Thanks for letting us know.

  4. I recently read a story about a girl who tried to win her friend to Christianity by telling him all the things she no longer did since she became a Christian. He protested that Christianity sounded like a list of prohibitions. Later he converted after hearing the positive message of Christ from another person. Although the story was fiction, I’ve found the same thing in dealing with people. Often the Ten Commandments are viewed the same way: negative rules from a God Who wants to spoil all our fun. After reading that story – and being reinforced by your Thought Tool today – I have come to understand that one major blessing of a relationship with God is the freedom to say “no” to things that would harm that relationship. Not just a list of “do’s and don’ts” but a lifestyle of love and holiness that frees us from the demands of evil and our own selfishness.

    Thank you for your teachings, dear Rabbi and Susan. I have learned so much from both of you – and often recommend you to friends and strangers as a great resource for us Christians who want a deeper understanding of our roots.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you for recommending us Sonia–
      Our mission is to serve by making ancient Jewish wisdom as accessible as possible to as many as possible. Do you ever get to hear the weekly podcast in which I discuss the matters upon my heart? If not try it out here:

  5. At sometime in these latter days, Jerusalem will be restored to its former grandeur and beauty. There will also be built a New Jerusalem built on this promised land, the USA. There will be two.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing Steven–
      In the early 1800s an English poet, William Blake wrote these lines:

      And did those feet in ancient time,
      Walk upon Englands mountains green:
      And was the holy Lamb of God,
      On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

      And did the Countenance Divine,
      Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
      And was Jerusalem builded here,
      Among these dark Satanic Mills?

      Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
      Bring me my Arrows of desire:
      Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
      Bring me my Chariot of fire!

      I will not cease from Mental Fight,
      Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
      Till we have built Jerusalem,
      In England’s green & pleasant Land

      Not sure I like his ‘dark satanic mills’ but still,

  6. Most friends will answer shavu-what? When I mention it’s Sivan 6 my favorite time of the year. I thank G-d for his instructions. This year especially with the US embassy moving to Jerusalem. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Toda for a fine article. (Note- there will be some non-Jews studying Torah till sunrise too)

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Oh I know that, Vince,
      I should have mentioned it. There are obviously more Christians faithfully studying Scripture in North America than any other group.

  7. Rabbi,
    I can’t help but believe that if each person that reads this, would regularly read the 10 Commandments and other places of the Torah, as well as something like the Federalist Papers as a study with family and friends once a week or month for the next year – that it would transform our country, possibly the world. Thank you for what you do! Kim

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Not sure I agree with you entirely, dear Kim,
      It requires more than reading. Reading gets the information into the head; but things only change when the difficult journey of fifteen inches from the head to the heart is accomplished.

      1. Perhaps this is where Deuteronomy 6:5 comes into focus “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”?

        Or from the New Testament – Matthew 22:37 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

  8. I am a Christian, but I will celebrate Shavuot this year (and for the rest of my years!). I have been struggling with how to celebrate this wonderful appointed time, and my google searches don’t turn up much information. So, thank you for emphasizing the importance and significance of this day. This gives me some ideas of how we should celebrate!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Sure, Alissa,
      Easy to celebrate it! Just devote extra time to Scripture study.

  9. Miriam Girdler

    Shavuot is not a Jewish Feast. It is a feast of the LORD and all who love Him should respect it and keep it: Jew and gentile.
    I would love to hear an in depth study of the feasts of the LORD

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Miriam,
      It is a Jewish feast in that it is predominantly celebrated in the synagogues (Orthodox) of the world and seldom in churches and never in mosques of town squares. But that all who love God and His Word should respect it is unarguable.

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