The Chag (Festival) of Shavuot is unique for a number of reasons, namely it’s abundance of names. In the Torah, Shavuot is also called Chag Ha-Katsir (The Festival of Gathering), Yom Habikkurim (Day of First Fruits) as well as its common name Shavuot (lit. Weeks). Add on the name Atzeret (lit. Refraining) that the Gemarah uses and the phrase we use in Kiddish and Birkat Hamazon of “Zman Matan Toratenu” (Time of the Giving of the Torah) and you’ve got more names than any other Chag!
Ironically, despite the abundance of names for Shavuot, it is perhaps the least observed Festival in the Jewish calendar. This may be due to the lack of biblical commandments on its observance, (no, eating cheesecake isn’t a commandment – even though it should be!) aside from the refraining of work. Despite this ambiguity over a clear theme for Shavuot, one unique feature can be found in a further exploration of one of Shavuot’s names – Yom Habikkurim.
Bikkurim with its numerous laws and customs appear to be a uniquely Jewish approach to our relationship with Hashem. The basic concept of Bikkurim is that the first fruits of the seven natives species of Israel were brought to Jerusalem in a ceremonial service, whereby the pilgrim offering the fruit would recite special verses outlining Jewish salvation from Egypt. (Interestingly, the text of this declaration can be found the Pesach Haggada!) Shavuot is called “The Day of First Fruits” as this was the commencement of the period of bringing the Bikkurim which would extend until Sukkot. Whilst one spiritual objective of Bikkurim is to recognise the miraculous sustenance The Almighty’s provides us, a closer look at the produce itself, is perhaps even more miraculous.
Fruit and produce as a whole, retain a special place in Jewish culture and laws. Aside from Bikkurim there are an abundance of biblical agricultural laws such as tithes, sabbaticals and jubilees. The connection between G-d, man and nature are inextricably linked within Judaism. Perhaps one reason for this connection is the divine nature of vegetation itself. The amount of produce a farmer can grow is dependent on various factors – weather, human assistance and diseases to name a few. One minor change in any number of variables can have a disastrous effect on a crop. Thus, the right environment and help from Above, is essential for growth, vitality and continuity.
Similarly our lives often are often filled with variables that can force us to retract and become apathetic. Be it illness, our relationships or our past, we can stop growing and producing based on our personal environment, yielding minimal crop from our efforts. So where to then, if we aren’t thriving? Shall we cast our eyes heavenward and pray for a miracle? Whilst it is incredible to think that would work, perhaps a way forward is to treat oneself like a precious crop and change the elements around ourselves to help us develop. Like the precious balance of soil, nutrients and sunshine, our lives need a delicate balance to create optimal conditions. Finding those conditions can be difficult and mercifully we’re blessed with opportunities to do so. But perhaps seeing our lives as a way to finding the balance and connectivity between our spiritual, physical and emotional can help us forge ahead to greener pastures. So this Shavuot take a moment to reflect on your life and see how your own personal Bikkurim are growing. Because you can always replant them in the future if needed.
Wishing you all a Chag Sameach!