God’s giving of the Torah to the Jews on Mount Sinai took place exactly 50 days after they left Egypt. So the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost) is celebrated exactly 50 days after Passover. That is what is amazing about biblical holidays – even though they date back thousands of years, they remain relevant and consistent today, effectively connecting us to our roots.
We learn in the book of Exodos that Moses ascended Mount Sinai, where God instructed him to tell the Israelites to take three days to prepare and purify themselves. On the dawn of the third day, thunder and lightning split the air, while heavy clouds hung over the mountain. Steadily growing blasts of the shofar shook the Israelites, leaving them trembling with awe and fear. This was the revelation of God.
Moses led the children of Israel out of their camp and to the foot of Mount Sinai, which by then was quaking and entirely covered by smoke, for God had descended upon it in fire.
We read about this historic event in the Bible, and are commanded to celebrate it on the biblical holiday. But many people might ask how it’s relevant to us today, 3500 years later, and what message we’re supposed to take out of it.
We’ve come a long way since our ancestors stood at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. We now live in a modern world vastly different than the world in which the Torah was given, and yet, its timeless teachings gave birth to the values by which our societies live today.
Charity, caring for the needy, respecting our parents and elders, and placing boundaries on our desires and egos are the ingredients of a healthy society, and while we might think that we have progressed beyond the societies of old, these God-given ingredients for a holy world and people are just as necessary today as they were thousands of years ago.
What the holiday of Shavuot teaches us is that the Ten Commandments, and the Bible itself, must always serve as our guiding light, our compass to signal if our modern society is heading in the right direction or not.
So on Shavuot we celebrate by staying up all night studying the Torah and letting God’s ancient – and living – Word soak into our souls. In the early morning hours, at sunrise, we pray and read the entire episode of the giving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments from a Torah scroll. By doing this, we experience the giving of the Torah in a personal way, and welcome its message into our hearts.
How do you know that something is true? When its message is eternal. And knowing that the Torah continues to guide, inspire, and teach us how to develop better families, communities, and societies, we can celebrate the personal, loving, and living Word of God.