“Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.” — Exodus 23:16
Today is the second day of the Jewish holiday, Shavuot. Because this is a non-working day for observant Jews, this devotion was prepared in advance for you.
Beginning at sundown Saturday, Jews around the world celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, also known in the Greek as Pentecost. It is a holiday celebrated with Bible study, often all through the night, culminating in a massive gathering at the Western Wall. Shavuot, which means “weeks” in Hebrew, marks seven weeks since the holiday of Passover. It also marks the day that the Torah was given to the children of Israel on Mt. Sinai. On this holy day, we celebrate the fact that God not only freed us physically from Egypt, but that He also set us free spiritually by giving us the manual for life — the Bible.
This is all very well and good, except for one glaring omission. When Shavuot is mentioned in the Torah, it isn’t mentioned in connection with the revelation of God on Mt. Sinai. Rather, we find that this holiday was designated as a time for bringing bikkurim, or firstfruits to God in the Temple. Shavuot was an agricultural holiday, also referred to by Scriptures as the “Festival of Harvest.” So how did we go from marking this holiday by bringing offerings of the firstfruits of the harvest to God to linking the day with the study of His Word?
The answer is simply that the Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled nearly 2,000 years ago from the Holy Land. Bringing the firstfruits became impossible. Yet, this holiday was not to be ignored. It’s one of the three major biblically mandated holidays that required pilgrimage to Jerusalem. What were we to do on this sacred day now that’s its central feature had become obsolete? The rabbis preserved the sanctity of the day by making the connection to the giving of God’s Word on that same day. This secondary feature filled in for the primary event while there was no other choice, and remains so through today.
However, we would be losing out on the true meaning of this holy day if we did not even consider the bringing of the firstfruits. When God took the Israelites out of Egypt, the goal was not merely to grant them physical freedom. It wasn’t even to give them spiritual liberation with the giving of the Bible. The goal was for the nation to enter Israel where they could integrate God’s Word into their everyday lives, as symbolized by the bringing of their firstfruits and recognizing God even in the most mundane elements of their lives.
This week, let’s consider the message of the firstfruits. Let’s remember that it’s not enough to study God’s Word; rather, we must live His Word by bringing God into every aspect of our lives, no matter how mundane. It’s precisely in the most physical arenas of our lives that we are to infuse with God’s glory.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President