During the joyous Jewish holiday of Shavuot, many special foods are eaten to commemorate the Zman Matan Torah—“the season of the giving of the Law.” The rabbis believed that the Torah was given on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the second day of Passover. Never before had the Israelites had the Word of God written down to read and remember.
Shavuot reminds us to be thankful for God’s Word and to delight in it. As the Word is read, it should bring joy, sweetness and happiness. This is why we eat sweet dairy things like cheesecake or blintzes (crepes or pancakes with a sweet cheese filling inside) on Shavuot. These foods help us remember that “honey and milk (God’s Word) are under your tongue” (Song of Solomon 4:11).
As Shavuot falls in the spring, right around the time of the first harvest, people often decorate their homes and synagogues with fresh greens, flowering plants and floral arrangements. Children weave stems together to make flower crowns. All this is done to remember the thanksgiving offering brought to the Lord as thanks for providing the first harvest and provision after the winter. The Lord provided a written Word for His people to be better able to obey, and as an expression of gratitude, His people brought Him the first of the springtime harvest.
On Shavuot, most synagogues are open all night long for a special reading of the book of Ruth, one of the five megillot (scrolls, including the Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther, that are read on special holidays). The message is about a young woman who relied on the Lord to provide for her and her widowed mother-in-law’s basic needs. Ruth gleaned in the harvest fields as she hoped for her kinsman-redeemer to marry her. Although Ruth was not Jewish, she believed in the God of Israel and was rewarded for her faith. Shavuot shows us many examples of how the Lord provides for His people—in both practical and spiritual ways. As dawn approaches, you can find Jewish people walking home, having stayed up all night, ready for a little sleep and looking forward to a Shavuot brunch!
Ashkenazi Jews only eat dairy on Shavuot, but many Sephardic Jews from the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe eat dairy for brunch and a big meat meal later in the evening. Sephardic foods contain more punchy, zingy spices, couscous, chickpeas, eggplant and dried fruits such as apricots and dates.