On Passover we eat matzah.
On Sukkot we dwell in the Sukkah.
On Hanukkah we light the Hanukkiah.
But how do we celebrate Shavuot which begins on Saturday night?
For being one of the three pilgrimage festivals, the Torah is somewhat tight-lipped about the holiday’s rituals. Even the Shulhan Arukh, arguably the definitive code of Jewish law published in 1565, gives very few details about how the holiday is to be observed. Whereas for the other holidays, the Shulhan Arukh lists hundreds of details and customs, for Shavuot, it lists the Torah and Haftarah readings and specifies that full Hallel is recited. It also mentions, somewhat casually, that some have the practice of decorating their homes and shuls with flowers (there is teaching that Mount Sinai bloomed at revelation) and that some have the practice of eating a dairy meal.
So what are we to do?
Recognizing the void, for generation after generation, the Jewish people have added several layers of meaning and customs to the holiday. For many Jewish communities, Shavuot has become a time to honor students, graduates, and teachers. Some communities stay up all night learning to make up for our ancestors who fell asleep before they received the Torah, and of course others have transformed the custom of eating dairy into a full-fledged religious obligation eating cheesecake, blintzes, and ice cream.
While some might see each generation’s creativity as a departure from the holiday’s original intent, I see it as an empowering mandate to make each holiday meaningful and personal. I am sure many of us have added our own communal and familial marks on many Jewish events and holidays. For example, many families have modified the seder plate to include an orange or added Miriam’s Cup next to Elijah’s cup. Others always make sure to eat bubbe’s matzah ball soup or brisket at Rosh Hashanah or use a specific melody while lighting the hannukiah.
I know in my family, it doesn’t quite feel like Passover unless we are clinking our glasses to the beat during the 4 questions on Passover or eating home-baked honey filled challah on Rosh Hashanah.
May each of us merit to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot this year by bringing in the traditions of our ancestors while also ensuring the holiday is meaningful and delicious for future generations.
Rabbi Michael Fel, Temple Emunah, Schechter Parent