Shavuot and Food

The Festival of Shavuot, the Feast of the Weeks, Chag Habikkurim, the Festival of the First-fruits; all describe the festival that started with ancient agricultural origins associated with the sweetness of spring bounty that later in history shifted to the Revelation of Torah.

The First-fruits of Spring being dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates and olives; the last harvest of barley, and the first harvest of wheat compose the seven species available in this ancient land of Israel. These comprised the First-fruit offerings made to the ancient temple during this festival. The two loaves of bread made from the finest flour were given by Jews from their farms given to the priests at the temple for wave offerings.

In the Bible (Exodus 23:19; 34:26), a reference is made twice to bringing the first fruits “You shall bring the first-fruits of your land to the house of the Lord your God…”, and it is paired along with the reference to what rabbis inferred as a command to separate milk from meat “You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk”. Eating dairy food on the Festival of the First Fruits was drawn from this association of ideas.

Dairy foods also serve during Shavuot as symbolic of milk. Milk is symbolic of the infancy of the Jewish people, and their birth as a nation at Mount Sinai. Milk is the breast food that according to the story, Moses would only drink from his Israeli mother and not drink from his new non-Jewish mother. Chalev, (milk in Hebrew) numerically is 40, which corresponds to the number of days Moses spent on the Mount studying Torah so that he could teach it to the Israelites. Milk in Hebew, Chalev, is also an acronym formed of Hebrew letters meaning “To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning” (Psalms 92:3) and the entire Torah is lovingkindness. Song of Songs verse 4.11: “knowledge of the torah is like milk and honey under the tongue.”

Chag Sameach.

Jeffrey & Janet Stein-Larson

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