Why you can’t get a date for Shavuot

Of the seven holy days prescribed in the Torah; five are fixed to always fall on the same date of the month, one (Shabbat) is fixed to fall on the same day, but on different dates of the month, and one (Shavuot) is 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 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 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 Reform 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 Reform and Conservative 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 forty seven 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 lose for both partners.

Shavuot is a transhistorical experience like Shabbat, and not a historical event like Passover. 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 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, meet the Shabbat bride”, and Shavuot celebrates the anniversary of Israel’s first intimate experience of God, as in “I will betroth you to Me forever”. (Hosea 3:21)

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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