The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD. — Exodus 19:8
Beginning at sundown on June 8 through sundown June 10, Jews around the world will celebrate the biblically mandated festival, Shavuot, which Christians will know by its Greek name, Pentecost. Originally tied to the harvest season and the bringing of the firstfruits to the Temple, the holiday now commemorates the giving of the Torah and the Law exactly 50 days after the Exodus. Enjoy these timeless teachings from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein on the many lessons this ancient observance has for Christians today.
Every Jewish holiday has a focal point, a symbolic item or action around which the observance revolves. Passover has matzah and the seder, Rosh Hashanah has its shofar. Hanukkah has the lights of the menorah and Sukkot has the temporary huts that we live in. But what about Shavuot?
Shavuot is one of the three major holidays the Bible commanded the children of Israel to celebrate. It’s also known as the Festival of Weeks, which celebrates the monumental event of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Yet, despite its importance, in comparison to other Jewish holidays, Shavuot seems to be lacking. What is its symbol? What do we do on this day that is unique, special for this holiday?
To help us answer that, let’s review the pivotal moment in the Shavuot narrative.
Moses had come down from Mount Sinai with a message for the children of Israel from God: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5). And the people responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said.”
Why is this such a critical moment? Because this is the marriage, if you will, between God and His people. God said, “Will you be mine?” and the people said, “Yes!” Then the Torah was given and the story unfolded. However, it all hinged on that one moment when the children of Israel said “yes” to God.
When you think about it, though, the Israelites didn’t actually do anything. They simply expressed their desire to do whatever God asked of them. And this is what the holiday is all about — not doing, but desiring. It’s about realizing how much we lack, how much we need God, and wanting deeply and passionately to be His.
This is so critical for receiving God and His Word in our lives. You can’t add water to a bucket that’s already full. It has to be empty, lacking, in need of water, in order to receive the water. The Torah is often compared to water in Judaism, and we can only receive it if we have an empty place inside for the water to collect.
We believe that even if we are given everything we need physically, without God, we have nothing. We are empty, lacking, and incomplete. However, many of us look at life in the opposite manner — we focus more on what we are lacking physically, and don’t even consider that we are incomplete without God.
Shavuot is a time to seriously consider what we need and don’t need, and to focus on what we truly lack. We all possess an emptiness that can only be filled by God. So let’s long for Him, desire Him, and receive Him in our lives.