Kabbalists and Hassidim brought encountering God’s love through a personal experience into the center of Shavuot. They taught that only on this day does the hidden Ayn Sof descend through ten Divine dimensions of Sefirot into our mundane reality, just as it occurred on the original day of Shavuot at Sinai.
Thus, Shavuot offers the best opportunity for each Jew to love and be loved by the Holy One of Israel; for this day is the anniversary of the marriage of God and Israel that first occurred at Sinai.
Is Shavuot a transhistorical event like Shabbat, or is it a historical event like Passover?
Why is Shavuot, the holy day that commemorates the revelation of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, the only Jewish holy day that the Torah does not give an exact date.
Jews are simply told that starting with Passover we should count each day for seven weeks and then the fiftieth day is Shavuot.
Of the seven holy days prescribed in the Torah; five are fixed to always fall on the same date of the month but not on the same day of the week, one (Shabbat) always falls on the same day of the week, but on different dates of the month, and one (Shavuot) is unfixed and timeless because we have to count 49 days from the day after the Shabbat of Passover.
Since the Shabbat that falls during Passover has no fixed date, only the day (Sunday) is fixed, unless we say, as did the Pharisees, that the Shabbat of Passover refers not to a regular Shabbat but to the first day of Passover, in which case the date is fixed but the day varies.
Why does the Torah not give us a fixed date for Shavuot? Why do we have to count seven weeks of days?
Because Shavuot is both a specific event marking the anniversary of the covenant made between God and the nation of Israel; and a experiential process like falling in love or becoming wise, which rarely occurs at a specific time or place.
Their is a great difference between celebrating a birthday; and celebrating a life. A wedding ceremony is an important day because it focuses attention on the much longer and complex process of forming and maintaining a loving relationship.
Of all Jewish holidays, Shavuot is the most expressive of the dynamic and pluralistic values of Judaism, Shavuot began as an agricultural holiday marking the end of a seven week period when the first fruits of the spring grain harvest were brought to the temple in Jerusalem.
“From the day after Shabbat, from that day you shall bring the (Omer) sheaf for waving offering: you are to count seven full weeks, until the day after the seventh week, count fifty days; then present a new grain offering to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:15-16)
In Talmudic times Shavuot became the occasion for celebrating Mattan Torah, God’s gift of Torah to Israel, and not long after that Jewish mystics began to spread the view that what happened at Sinai was actually a marriage commitment between God and Israel; with Torah being the covenantal Ketubah.
For modern Jews trying to understand the meaning of an evolving revelation, religious pluralism, a God who chooses and a chosen people; Shavuot, the only Jewish holiday where the Torah does not give us an explicit fixed date, is an ideal way to gain insight.
Why did the talmudic rabbis insist that Shavuot and Mattan Torah always must fall on the sixth of Sivan although they all agreed that the first Shavuot was on a Shabbat: and why did they almost always prefer calling the holiday Atzeret instead of Shavuot?
I know the exact day when I and my wife were married. I do not know the day, the week or even the month, when I fell in love with her. A wedding is a specific event that can be observed. Forming a loving commitment is an ongoing process that must be experienced.
This is why the only Jewish holy day that does not have a proscribed specific date is Shavuot/Atzeret; a day commemorating the beginning of the partnership-marriage covenant commitment between God and Israel.
Being chosen is an event; choosing is a process. One day, propelled by my growing love for my beloved, I proposed marriage. Two weeks later, she finally said ‘Yes’. Four months later, on December 25, 1966 we were married.
During fifty one subsequent anniversary celebrations our love has continued to grow. Experiencing each additional anniversary is more significant than our original wedding day. The consequences of the choice seem more important than the original choice itself; provided the choice was the right one.
Yet without the choice to make the commitment, love would be unexpressed and unrequited: a terrible loss for both partners.
Shavuot is a transhistorical experience like Shabbat, and not a historical event like Passover. This lesson about the timelessness of revelation is also found in the Qur’an which states: “We sent it (the Qur’an) down on a blessed night (Arabic laylah mubarakah, Hebrew lailah mevurakh) for We are sure to warn (every people in their own language).” (44:3-6)
The night of power/blessing is more than just the anniversary of the specific night when the Qur’an’s revelation began, as is indicated by the variety of traditions about the date of the night of power.
For example, according to one tradition Prophet Muhammad said: “Whoever wants to search for (this night) should search in the last seven nights (of Ramadan).” Yet in another tradition the Prophet is reported to have said: “Look for the night of power when nine, seven or five nights remain in Ramadan (i.e. from 20th to 25th of Ramadan, inclusive).” But it is also said, “search for it on the 29th, 27th and 25th” of Ramadan. All these traditions are from Bukhari.
Add traditions from other Hadith collections, and the variety increases to seven different dates for the night of power: 17th, 21st, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 27th or the last date of Ramadan. Prophet Muhammad, like Prophet Moses, certainly knew the exact date of the first Divine revelation he received. Yet neither the Qur’an-Torah nor either Prophet revealed that date; because revelation is a timeless ongoing process.
Both Shabbat and Shavuot celebrate a continual ongoing spiritual process of personally experiencing a day of wholeness and holiness within a sacred framework.
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the letters of Shavuot contain the letters of Shabbat within themselves; and that the marriage Ketubah begins with the day of Shabbat, as a synonym for shavua, the singular of Shavuot.
For mystics every Jewish marriage that is destined to last, is a reenactment of the marriage of God and Israel at Sinai.
Shabbat celebrates Israel’s weekly love for the Shabbat bride as in “Come my beloved, to meet the Shabbat bride”.
Shavuot celebrates the yearly anniversary of Israel’s first intimate experience of God, as Hosea proclaims God’s vow: “I will betroth you (Israel) unto Me for ever; yea, I will betroth you unto Me in righteousness, in justice, in lovingkindness, and in mercy. I will betroth you unto Me in faithfulness; and you shalt know the LORD” (2:21-22)