What is Shavuot?
There are many ways that question can be answered, yet there are two that in this season stand out.
The first is looking at how Shavuot is commonly celebrated in modern times—by the reading of the Torah and the laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
“…do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you.” —Proverbs 3:1-2
The second involves looking at what Shavuot originally related to—harvest, and the giving of firstfruits to God.
“Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.” —Proverbs 3:9-10
How can a holiday have changed so much? What does harvest time and giving the firstfruits of that harvest have to do with reading the Torah and remembering God’s laws?
Well, if you were standing on the Mount of Olives, looking out toward the Old City of Jerusalem today, what would you see? You would see the Dome of the Rock instead of a Temple to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jews cannot bring firstfruits to the Temple if it is not currently in being—so, they adjusted HOW they celebrated. Yet, Shavuot isn’t as altered as it may first appear.
Aside from the modern custom of reading the laws given to Moses, the story of Ruth is often read… and this is where the thread between the harvest and the law truly comes alive.
Shavuot and the Story of Ruth:
It is interesting to realize that many Jews choose to read the book of Ruth during Shavuot—in addition to the laws—after all, Ruth wasn’t a Jew by birth. In fact, it is traditionally told that Ruth was a high-ranking Moabitess, and that she prayed to and worshiped another god for many years. Ruth could have potentially even worshiped the Moab god after marrying Naomi’s son, Mahlon, as many Jews believe Ruth’s entreaty to her mother-in-law, after Naomi’s sons and husband died, was her conversion declaration.
“…Entreat me not to leave you,
or to turn back from following after you;
for wherever you go, I will go;
and wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
and there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
if anything but death parts you and me.”
So, why do Jews read a story of a converted Gentile woman on one of their three pilgrim feasts?
The answer lies in the two primary reasons why Shavuot is celebrated:
First—A more modern day reason is that the Jews, having not fully embraced the gift of the laws given them in the past, today put forth a special effort to be thankful for that gift. Ruth, therefore, being a Gentile who not only came to cherish the laws, but put them into practice so completely—altering every aspect of her life—is a wonderful example of joyfully embracing the laws the Jewish people, now, so cherish.
“And Boaz answered and said to her, ‘It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before.’”—Ruth 2:11
Second—Shavuot was, and is, a holiday focused on harvest and firstfruits. Today this is largely acknowledged through the foods eaten, and the bringing of plants into the home. Yet, harvest and firstfuits are still important to Shavuot, and the book of Ruth focuses on many points related to this theme.
“‘…wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor…’” —Ruth 3:3
There is, of course, the harvest theme. Ruth meets Boaz in his field while gleaning barley behind the reapers of the harvest—a preparatory time for her. Then, soon after, during what is traditionally believed to be Shavuot—the time of firstfruits—the harvest festival arrives, as does Ruth’s destiny.
Ruth, under the guidance of her mother-in-law, goes to Boaz at his threshing floor during Shavuot with the expectation of his redeeming her according to the law. Ruth went expecting and was rewarded.
Ruth was redeemed at the time of the harvest and firstfruits; her purpose was fulfilled; and she, through her obedience, brought blessing to herself, to Naomi, and to those to come—for Ruth is the grandmother of King David, and is in the lineage of Jesus.
“…You are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, from the hand of Naomi. Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren and from his position at the gate. You are witnesses this day.” —Ruth 4:9-10
What is Shavuot to you and I today?
It is a time of joy! As Ruth was redeemed and drawn into the fullness of God and His Word, so are we!
Passover has finished and now we are moving into a season of harvest—the fulfillment of our purpose!
We are able to say, as Ruth said in Ruth 1:16, “…for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”
We, like Ruth, have been grafted into the Jewish root of promise. We are able, by the precious price of Jesus, to enjoy the benefits of the laws given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. We are able to enjoy the harvest, and the blessing of giving the firstfruits of our increase—our financial blessings, and even our joy!
“The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” —Ruth 2:1
Shavuot is a time of expectation, a time of blessing, and a time of harvest!
Let us say this Shavuot: ‘Baruch atah Adoni, ve chag Shavuot sameach!’ or ‘Blessed be the Lord, and happy Shavuot!’