Saturday, 11 June 2016

Ambassador ret. Yoram Ettinger; Shavou’ot (Pentecost) guide for the perplexed, 2016

1.  The 49 days between Passover and Shavou'ot are dedicated to enhancing one's behavior.  It is customary to pave the road to Shavou'ot/Pentecost – from Passover - by studying the six chapters of “ The Ethics of the Fathers ” (Pirkei Avot in Hebrew), which is one of the 63 tractates of the Mishnah (the Oral Torah) - a compilation of common sense principles and ethical and moral teachings, which underline inter-personal relationships.  For example:

v   "Who is respected? He who respects other people!"
v   "Who is a wise person? He who listens to other people!"
v   "Who is wealthy? He who is satisfied with his own share!"
v   "Who is a hero? He who controls his urge!"
v   "Talk sparsely and walk plenty;"
v   "Jealousy, lust and an obsession with fame warp one's mind."

2.  Liberty is a central theme of Shavou’ot as demonstrated by the Ten Commandments, which constitute the essence of Shavou’ot, bolstering the message of Passover: liberty is the paramount feature of the human society.  The Exodus produced physical liberty and the Ten Commandments provided the liberated slaves with mental liberty – a prerequisite to sustain physical liberty and refrain from abusing it.

3.  The Ten Commandments (the essence of the Torah, the Five Books of Moses) provide the guidelines of – and Pillar of Fire to - freedom-driven people, highlighting faith, responsibility and liberty, which must be permanently enhanced, lest they be doomed.  For example, the first Commandment underlines liberty and not the creation: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”  The fourth Commandment stipulates: “… Six days you shall labor, but the seventh day is a Sabbath… you, your son, daughter, male and female servants, cattle and the stranger within your gates….”  Free people labor and free people, and even cattle, rest on the Sabbath.  The fifth Commandments mandates: “Honor your father and mother….,” emphasizing the centrality of respect, experience and memory in forging liberty, leveraging the legacy of – and respecting (not necessarily agreeing with) - previous generations.  The 6th-10th Commandments specify “don’ts,” which are the prerequisites to sustain liberty of the individual, family and society at-large: “Thou shall not murder….commit adultery….steal…. bear false witness against your neighbor….covet your neighbor’s house…wife…servant…ox…ass…nor anything….” 

4.  In order to sustain liberty, one is urged to consider oneself as reliving the Exodus, endowed with physical freedom, but required to secure it through proper conduct. 

5.  Shavou’ot is celebrated 50 days following Passover. 50 represents Jubilee, which symbolizes liberty, as stated by Leviticus 25:10 (inscribed on the Liberty Bell): “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof….”  Judaism highlights a challenge facing human beings: the choice between the 50 gates of wisdom (the Torah) and the corresponding 50 gates of impurity (Biblical Egypt). The 50th gate of wisdom is the gate of deliverance.  

6.  The USA is composed of 50 states.  Shavou’ot sheds light on the unique covenant between the Jewish State and the USA: Judeo-Christian values. These values impacted the worldview of the Early Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers and the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances, the abolitionist movement, etc.  The British philosopher John Locke – considered the Father of wanted the 613 Laws of Moses to become the legal foundation of the new society established in the Carolinas and throughout America.  Pentecost is celebrated on the 7th Sunday after Easter.

7.  Israel’s Declaration of Independence was proclaimed between Passover and Shavou’ot.

8.   Modesty/humility. Shavou'ot commemorates the receipt of the Torah, and its 613 statutes - an annual reminder of the critical values that shape faith and human relationships. The Torah was received in the desert, on Mount Sinai, which is not a dominating mountain, emphasizing that humility/modesty are the most critical values of human relationships and leadership. Humility/modesty characterized Moses, the exceptional lawgiver and leader, who earned only one compliment in the Torah: "the humblest of all human beings." Abraham (אברהם), King David (דוד) and Moses (משה) are the Biblical role models of humility. Their Hebrew acronym (Adam - אדמ) means “human-being,” and is the root of the Hebrew word for "soil" (אדמה).

9.  Shavou’ot reflects the 3,500-year-old trilateral linkage between the Land of Israel (pursued by Abraham), the Torah of Israel (transmitted through Moses) and the People of Israel (united by David).  According to King Solomon, "a triple stranded cord is not easily broken!" The Torah of Israel forged and enhanced the character of the Jewish people, and both have been nurtured by the Land of Israel – a unique territorial, national and spiritual platform. Shavou'ot – a spiritual liberation holiday – follows Passover – a national liberation holiday. Shavou'ot is celebrated by decorating homes and synagogues/temples with Land of Israel-related crops and flowers.

10.  Shavou'ot has 7 names: The holiday of the fiftieth (day), the holiday of the harvest, the holiday of the giving of the Torah, Shavou’ot, the holiday of the offerings, the rally and the assembly.

11. Shavou’ot (שבועות) is a derivative of the Hebrew word “Shvoua’” (שבועה) – vow, referring to the exchange of vows between God and the Jewish People. The origin of Shavou’ot occurred 26 generations after Adam and Eve. The Hebrew word for Jehovah (יהוה) equals 26 in Gimatriya (assignment of numerical values to Hebrew letters). There are 26 Hebrew letters in the names of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs: Abraham (אברהם), Yitzhak (יצחק), Yaakov (יעקב) Sarah (שרה), Rivka (רבקה), Rachel (רחל) and Leah (לאה).

More information on Shavou’ot/Pentecost and other Jewish holidays, including the Sabbath, annual fast days and the Jubilee: (pdf)