We are commanded to count 49 days or 7 weeks of sefira (counting) from Pesach until the holiday of Shavuos. Every night after it gets dark, we make a bracha and count one more day toward Shavuos. While Pesach commemorates our becoming a nation and our freedom after our miraculous exodus from Egypt, Shavuos commemorates our receiving of the commandments of the Torah.
There are two holiday customs that are unique to Shavuos. We eat an assortment of dairy foods and we decorate our homes with flowers and greenery. Both commemorate the events leading up to the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
We eat a dairy feast on Shavuos, unlike the festive meat meals that we enjoy on all other holidays during the year. We learn that “there is no great joy, except in meat and wine”. On Shavuos we make an exception to that concept and eat at least one festive dairy meal. There are a number of reasons for the custom on Shavuos to eat dairy foods on Shavuos. Here are a couple of those reasons:
As the Torah was received, the Jewish nation became obligated to observe the kosher laws. Since the Torah was given on Shabbos as a day of rest, cattle could not be slaughtered and utensils could not be koshered. For this reason, the Jewish nation ate dairy food on that day. We have kept this custom until today.
The Torah is compared to milk, for it is nourishing and wholesome for our souls. Chalav is the Hebrew word for milk and the numerical value of the letters spelling chalav totals forty. Moses spent forty (40) days on Mount Sinai when receiving the Torah .
We decorate our homes and synagogues in honor of Shavuos with greenery and flowers. We commemorate the setting of the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and we mark the observance of Shavuos, known as chag ha’bikurim (festival of the harvest of first fruits). Here are some reasons that we decorate with flowers and greenery on Shavuos:
Mount Sinai was chosen to be the site for the receiving of the Torah because of its humility. Once chosen, the humble and flower-free desert mountain sprouted greenery and flowers. This adornment of physical beauty enhanced the spiritual beauty of this monumental event.
Since Shavuos is also the festival of the harvesting of first fruits, it is customary to adorn the home and synagogue with fruits, flowers and greens. During the time of our holy temple in Jerusalem, farmers tied a ribbon around their first fruits and brought those cherished ripe first fruits to Jerusalem in a lavish and joyous ceremony. Floral decorations on Shavuos commemorate that first fruit ceremony.
The blossoming of our souls with Torah is compared to the the desert blooming with flowers, as it did at the time that the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. Just as a barren mountain was adorned with flowers at that time, our ordinary lives can bloom with the light of Torah.
It is customary to decorate with fragrant herbs, plants and flowers around our home and synagogue. This symbolize the fragrance that Torah brings to the world.
As a countdown to Shavuos, I will be posting floral inspirations and dairy recipes over the next weeks until Shavuos.