|Nature and Names of the Festival|
The Festival of Shavuot - Hag Matan Torah - is cited in the Torah as a festival of nature and of agriculture. On Pesach we celebrate the exodus of our forefathers from Egypt - from bondage to freedom; after months of wandering in the desert the Children of Israel arrived at Mount Sinai, where they received the Torah through the intermediary of Moses.
Since the Israelites received the Torah on Shavuot, the festival is also called Hag Matan Torah (the Festival of the Giving of the Law). Our Sages emphasize that only when they received the Ten Commandments did the Israelites become a free people. Our forefathers received the Torah of their free will and with full agreement (Exodus, 24: 7).
According to tradition the Torah was given to Israel in the year 2448 of the Creation of the world.
On Shavuot the People of Israel concluded the barley harvest and commenced the wheat harvest, since in Eretz Yisrael the month of Sivan signals the end of spring and the beginning of summer.
The "Three Pilgrim festivals" are:
Three times yearly, our forefathers went up to the Temple in Jerusalem to bring the fruit of their soil as a thanks-offering to the Lord.
There is another special significance to the timing of Shavuot, between the Omer and the harvest. The festival was fixed at the end of a season lasting seven weeks, namely the period of "Counting the Omer", which commences on the first day of Hol Hamoed Pesach in Israel [second night of the festival in the Diaspora]. In this period, the fierce struggle between the easterly and the westerly winds intensifies in Eretz Yisrael. The dry easterly winds on the one hand, and the westerly winds on the other, bearing clouds and the danger of sudden rains, can lead to sudden weather changes, affecting the field crops and plantations. Thus the 49 days of the Omer are counted with some degree of trepidation.
When Shavuot arrives, the weather stabilizes. The farmer already knows the fate of the grain crops, but he has no guarantee of the success of the harvest of the fruit that grow in summer. This is known only at Hag Hakatzir - the Harvest Festival.
In addition to the name "Hag Matan Torah", the festival has four other names:
In the Torah the festival is called "Hag Ha-Shavuot", the Festival of Weeks, after the seven weeks counted from Pesach to Shavuot:
(Deuteronomy, 16: 9-10)
The seven weeks of the counting of the Omer must be complete. Accordingly care is taken over the following details:
The Torah does not indicate the date of Shavuot, since it is fixed as the fiftieth day of the Omer (Leviticus 23:16), and always falls on the sixth of Sivan.
The Festival of Reaping. The barley harvest, that commences on Pesach, ends on Shavuot, when the wheat harvest begins (wheat ripens later than barley):
"And you shall observe the feast of weeks, of the first fruits of wheat harvest".
The Festival of First fruits - Just as the Omer offering of the new barley is brought on Pesach, during the festival of "your first harvest", so on Shavuot, at the end of the barley harvest, the offering of the two shew-breads is brought.
These offerings are mitzvoth[precepts] which are not binding on the individual, but rather on the public, and they were brought to the Temple. It is customary today to bring first fruits of the land (mainly fruit and vegetables) and to distribute them to the poor.
In the Mishnah and Talmud, Shavuot is known as "Atzeret", which means: a festive assembly of all the people. The pilgrims who came to Jerusalem used to gather in the Holy City and celebrate the festival joyously. Today, this agricultural event is celebrated in the kibbutzim and moshavim of Israel with dancing and singing. This is the final day of the Pesach period, just as Shemini Atzeret concludes Succot.