This week Jews around the world will celebrate Shavuot, one of the three pilgrimage festivals mentioned in the Bible: “From the day after the Sabbath … count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:15-16).
The word Shavuot means “weeks,” and refers to the 7 weeks between Passover and this holiday. Since Shavuot is the 50th day after Passover, Shavuot is also known as Pentecost, a Greek word meaning “fiftieth.”
In the Bible, this correlates with the time from the Exodus from Egypt until the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai and received the Torah. Appropriately, another name for Shavuot is “zman matan torateinu,” “the time of the giving of our Torah.” It’s a day to celebrate God’s greatest gift to humankind, the Bible.
On the Hebrew calendar, the Torah was given on the 6th day of the month Sivan, 1313 BCE. Since that time, Jews believe the 6th of Sivan has been a day that God’s revelation is more accessible to us than the rest of the year. On this day, annually, we can receive our own “personal Torah,” God’s wisdom revealed to us in our hearts and in our minds.
According to tradition, the Torah was given in the morning. As a result, many Jews have a custom to stay awake the entire night of Shavuot studying the Torah until the morning. 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 on their own with God and His Word.
My work at The Fellowship creating bridges of understanding between Christians and Jews has taught me that Shavuot is so very relevant to Jews and Christians alike. In fact, the Torah – which Christians call the Old Testament — is the very foundation of our common ground. Both of our faith communities appreciate that special moment when God revealed Himself at Sinai, and the significance of that day even now. As Jews and Christians, we can both take pride in knowing that our shared values have served as the bedrock of moral society. And as Jews and Christians sharing biblical values, we are able to work together in order to bring biblical prophecy to fruition.
My late father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, dedicated his life to bringing Christians and Jews together through our common values and shared canon. He believed that it was time to end 2,000 years of misunderstanding and hostility that have marked the Christian – Jewish relationship until now. My father taught that when we focus on what we have in common – namely, the Bible – we create an unbreakable, unshakable, and powerful bond. Indeed, through our partnership we have been able to accomplish more than any of us could have done on our own.
This Sunday, as I celebrate Shavuot and express my gratitude to God for His Torah, I will also thank Him for placing His Word in the hearts of millions of Christians who both cherish the Bible and stand with the Jewish people. Our bond is only growing stronger and our joint efforts ever more impactful as we fulfill the word of God.
With blessings from the Holy Land,