SUNSET TUESDAY, JUNE 7: The Counting of the Omer draws to a close today, and Jews rejoice after great anticipation: Tonight begins Shavuot, the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Seven weeks ago—on the second day of Passover—Jews joyously remembered their freedom from the Pharaoh; 50 days later, on Shavuot, devotees give thanks for the day they were given the Torah. (Find more at Judaism 101.) The seven-week countdown to Shavuot earns this holiday the nickname “Festival of Weeks,” although Jews might know it by its historical significance as the conclusion of the grain season. (Wikipedia has details.) While the Temple of Jerusalem stood, it was customary to offer two loaves of bread made from the wheat harvest on Shavuot.
Jews specify today as the anniversary of the giving of the Torah, and not of the receiving of the Torah: sages insist that the Torah is received every day and throughout a lifetime. (Even non-Jews can appreciate this holiday, according to Aish.com: check out a supporting article here.) Traditionally, Jews abstain from work today to participate in prayer services, read the Book of Ruth, consume customary dairy products and remain awake all night to awake the Torah. (Get Shavuot audio, video and more at Chabad.org.) The Book of Ruth speaks of the grain season and of the Torah, and so is commonly read today; dairy foods are consumed for a variety of reasons. According to accounts, Mount Sinai came alive with flowers and greenery in anticipation of the coming event of the giving of the Torah, and many Jews decorate synagogues and homes with plants and flowers in commemoration.
Shavuot is usually celebrated for one day in Israel and for two days in the Diaspora.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.