SUNSET SATURDAY, MAY 26: Jews have been Counting the Omer each day since Passover, and their waiting ends today: it’s the Festival of Weeks, better known as Shavu’ot. While Jews recall the ancient Israelites gaining freedom from the Pharaoh on Passover, they recall the gift of the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavu’ot; thus, the Jews were rescued by G_d both physically and spiritually during these two intertwined holidays. (Click on Chabad.org to read the “Ten Commandment Series.”) To correctly place Shavuot 50 days from the second day of Passover, Jews count each day, known as an “omer,” and on the 50th day they mark Shavu’ot. (Read more at Judaism 101.) It’s custom to stay up all night, studying the Torah, on the first night of Shavu’ot, and to pray at the first morning hours. Crowds of thousands can be seen in Israel this morning, making their way to the Western Wall to pray.
In the ancient land of Israel, a grand and colorful celebration meant that Shavu’ot had arrived. Following the barley season that had begun during Passover, a seven-week grain season peaked with the harvesting of wheat on Shavu’ot. (Wikipedia has details.) Ancient farmers would tie reeds around the first fruits to ripen in their fields, and on Shavu’ot, these fruits would be cut and placed into gold and silver baskets. Oxen, whose horns were laced with flower garlands, would carry the baskets in a procession to Jerusalem. Music and parades often met the oxen and farmers as they proceeded through the streets. Today, Jews continue to refrain from work and read the Book of Ruth (which contains stories of the grain season and of the lineage of David, who is believed to have been born and died on Shavu’ot).
Many modern Jews associate Shavu’ot with a certain tasty treat: Cheesecake! (Find cheesecake recipes at AllRecipes or other dairy options from the Jerusalem Post.) For varying reasons, Jews partake in one dairy meal today—sometimes two—and cheesecake tops the list in many Jewish homes. According to the Midrash, Mount Sinai bloomed in flowers in expectation of the coming Torah, and so on Shavu’ot, many Jews partake in dairy while surrounded by plants, flowers and other decorative greenery.
Jewish law permits the observance of Shavu’ot for one day in Israel and for two days in the Diaspora.