Yael Eckstein | May 23, 2023
“’Israel was holy to the LORD,
the firstfruits of his harvest;
all who devoured her were held guilty,
and disaster overtook them,’”
declares the LORD. — Jeremiah 2:3
This week, my family and I will join Jews around the world in celebrating Shavuot, also known as The Festival of Weeks or Pentecost. Initially, Shavuot was a harvest festival, but since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, we have celebrated it as the giving of the Torah, which occurred seven weeks, or 50 days, after the Exodus. My devotions this week offer lessons that can be learned from this biblically mandated observance.
This week Jews around the world will celebrate Shavuot. According to Jewish tradition, the Torah was given to the Israelites on this holiday. As a result, many Jews stay awake the entire night of Shavuot studying the Torah. This demonstrates our excitement, passion, and enthusiasm for God’s Word.
Last year, Shavuot was particularly meaningful to me because, for the first time, my son was old enough — and determined enough — to stay up studying the Bible all night long. Few things give me greater joy than seeing my children genuinely connect with God’s Word on their own.
However, while today Shavuot focuses on receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, in the Bible, the holiday is not associated with this event. Rather, Shavuot is consistently associated with the giving of the firstfruits of the harvest and was initially a harvest festival.
So what happened?
Very simply, the Temple was destroyed. Gone were the priests, the grand ceremony, and eventually, the beautiful Jewish communities in the land of Israel. Without the possibility of bringing the firstfruits to the Temple as commanded in the Bible, we needed to find another way to mark this biblically prescribed holiday.
Until that time, receiving of the Torah had been a tangential theme of the holiday, but after the Temple’s destruction, it became the focus. Instead of offering our firstfruits on Shavuot, we now offer God the best of ourselves by recommitting to His Word.
In truth, this tradition has a deep connection to the original ritual. In Jeremiah 2:3, Israel is referred to as “the firstfruits of his harvest …” We are God’s firstfruits, and it is quite fitting to offer ourselves to God. Moreover, in Proverbs 8:19, we read, “My fruit is better than fine gold.” This refers to the “fruit” that comes from studying God’s Word and growing from it. Learning the Bible and developing spiritually on Shavuot is our way of giving God our firstfruits in our times.
We look forward to the day when the Temple is rebuilt, and we are able to present God with our actual firstfruits. Until then, we will continue to give him the best of what we have – our hearts, our good deeds, and our dedication to His Word.
How can you offer God the firstfruits of yourself? Share your response in the comment section below.