All of these holidays have both agricultural as well as historical/religious significance. Shavuot marks the grain harvest of the early summer and the holiday is also known as z’man matan torateinu, the celebration of receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
There are many ways in which Pesach and Shavuot are linked. Conceptually our tradition teaches that freedom (Pesach) by itself is incomplete and lacks significance; only when the road leads to Sinai (Torah) can the real meaning of redemption from Egypt be understood.
Freedom allows Torah—the creation of a covenantal community with the goal of the establishment of a just society. Pesach and Shavuot are also connected by the period of the counting of the Omer. The Omer was a harvest-offering brought to the Temple on Pesach. The Torah indicates that after seven weeks of counting a holiday is to be observed on the 50th day; Shavuot.
It is quite remarkable that in the present day we can observe the renewal of the agricultural component of the Shavuot celebration. In Israel today primarily on kibbutzim Shavuot is observed by recreating part of the ancient Shavuot pilgrimage. This included a procession of people carrying baskets filled with the various offerings to be brought to the Temple. Many kibbutzim replicate this process with children carrying baskets filled with the agricultural bounty of the land.
These celebrations suggest both the historical experience of the past and represent the effort in our own times to engage in rituals and observances that are particularly meaningful in the modern context. The modern State of Israel has achieved tremendous success in the agricultural sector and this is a source of great pride in the country. Shavuot becomes an opportunity to connect with the past and to celebrate and embrace the realities and accomplishments of the present.
In the absence of the agricultural context in the primarily urban centers in which we live, we may wonder how to make a meaningful connection between the agricultural and historical/spiritual aspects of Shavuot. The great scholar and teacher of the last century,
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel suggests that paying attention to the natural world can lead us to a greater understanding of the spiritual aspects of our tradition. He writes:
Heschel reminds us how important is our sense of appreciation and our recognition of the daily wonder around us. If our minds and hearts are open to these experiences on a regular basis, only then can we attempt to reach for the understanding of an event so immense as revelation. At the same time we acknowledge the importance of ongoing learning to ensure that we continue to receive Torah in a meaningful way.
Shavuot Customs and Observances
on the first night of ShavuotSpreading greens and flowers in
the synagogue on ShavuotEating dairy foods on Shavuot