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Shavou’ot (Pentecost) guide for the perplexed, 2022

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  1. The significance of Shavou’ot (June 5, 2022)

Shavou’ot is one of the three liberty-oriented Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Passover, Shavou’ot and Tabernacles).

Shavou’ot is celebrated 7 weeks following the second day of Passover. It is a historical, national, agricultural and spiritual extension of Passover. Passover highlights the physical liberty from slavery in Egypt; Shavou’ot highlights the spiritual liberty, embracing the values of the Ten Commandments and the Torah, in preparation for reentry into the Land of Israel.

Shavou’ot is also called the Holiday of the Harvest (ביכורים), since it concludes the harvesting season, which starts during Passover.

Shavou’ot (שבועות) means “weeks” in Hebrew and its spelling is identical to the Hebrew word “vows.”

Shavou’ot commemorates the 40 years of the Exodus, which entailed tough challenges on the way to the Land of Israel, forging the state-of-mind of the Jewish people and the Jewish State.  For example:

*Earning and sustaining liberty – which is a most critical value – requires the willingness to sustain tribulations (blood, sweat and tears);

*Walking against the grain and can-do mentality – no challenge is insurmountable when met by faith and principle-driven determination;

*The steeper the hurdle, the more critical the mission, the deeper the gratification;

*Adversities and challenges are opportunities in disguise.

  1. The Scroll of Ruth (Honor thy mother in-law…)

Shavou’ot spotlights the Scroll of Ruth, the first of the five Biblical scrolls, which are studied during five Jewish holidays: Ruth (Shavou’ot), Song of Songs (Passover), Ecclesiastes (Sukkot/Tabernacles), Book of Lamentations (the Ninth day of Av), Esther (Purim). Ruth was a Moabite Princess, the great grandmother of King David, the son of Jesse and the grandson of Ovad, who was the son of Ruth.

Ruth was a role model of loyalty to her Jewish mother in-law (“Your people are my people and your G-d is my G-d”), humility, gratitude, responsibility, reliability, respect of fellow human beings, faith and optimism. According to the Bible, Ruth, the daughter-in-law, was better than seven sons. Ruth stuck by her mother-in-law, Naomi, during Naomi’s roughest time, when the latter lost her husband, Elimelech (a President of the Tribe of Judah), two sons and property. Just like Job, Naomi bounced back from the lowest ebb of her ordeal to fulfilled hope.  Job and Naomi went through family, economic and social calamities, lost their spouses, children and financial assets; both retained confidence in G-d and reconstructed their families; both became symbols of conviction over convenience, faith-driven patience and endurance.

The legacy of Ruth reflects the central role played by Biblical women, joining the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel; Miriam, the older sister of Moses; Deborah the Prophetess, Judge and military leader; Hannah, the mother of Samuel the Prophet; Queen Esther, etc.

The geographic platform of the Scroll of Ruth was the Judean Desert, the cradle of Jewish history, religion, culture, language and ethnicity.

  1. Impact on the formation of the US

The holiday of Shavou’ot (Pentecost) commemorates the legacy of Moses: the Exodus, the Ten Commandments and the Torah (the Five Books of Moses), which had a significant impact on the Early Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers, and the formation of the US culture, civic life, the federal system, the US Revolution (as highlighted by Thomas Paine’s Common Sense), The Federalist Papers, the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, etc.

  1. 4. The US Liberty Bell

Shavou’ot is the holiday of liberty/Exodus, as highlighted by the Biblical concept of Jubilee, the role model of Biblical liberty, which is celebrated every 50 years. The essence of the Jubilee is inscribed on the Liberty Bell: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus 25:10).”

The Liberty Bell was installed in Philadelphia in 1752, 50 years following William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, and eventually inspiring the 50 States in the union. According to the Biblical Jubilee, all slaves must be released and land must be returned to the original proprietors (every 50 years). Shavou’ot is celebrated 50 days following Passover, and Pentecost – a derivative of the Greek word for 50 – is celebrated 50 days following Easter.  According to Judaism, there are 50 gates of wisdom, studied during the 50 days between Passover and Shavou’ot.

  1. The centrality of humility

Shavou’ot highlights humility as a very critical value of human behavior and leadership. This is underlined by the receipt of the Torah, the Ten Commandments and the 613 statutes in the desert – an uncomfortable environment – on Mount Sinai, which is not an overpowering mountain.  Moses, the exceptional law-giver and civic and military leader, was accorded only one compliment in the entire Bible: “the humblest of all human beings.”

  1. The Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkey Avot in Hebrew)

It is customary to study – from Passover through Shavou’ot – the six brief chapters of The Ethics of the Fathers, one of the 63 tractates of the Mishnah (the Oral Torah) – a compilation of common sense principles, ethical and moral teachings, which underline key inter-personal relationships. For example:

“Who is respected? He who respects other persons!”
“Who is a wise person? He who learns from all other persons!”
“Who is wealthy? He who is satisfied with his own share!”
“Who is a hero? He who controls his urge!”
“Talk sparsely and walk plenty;”
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
“Don’t be consumed with the flask, but with its content.”
“Conditional love is tenuous; unconditional love is eternal.”
“Treat every person politely.”
“Jealousy, lust and the obsession with fame warp one’s mind.”

  1. Shavou’ot and the significance of 7

Shavou’ot reflects the centrality of 7 in Judaism. The Hebrew root of Shavou’ot (שבועות) is Seven (שבע – Sheva), which is also the root of “vow” (שבועה – Shvoua’), “satiation” (שובע – Sova) and “week” (שבוע – Shavoua’).  Shavou’ot is celebrated 7 weeks following Passover. The Sabbath was the 7th day of the Creation in a 7-day-week, and according to Genesis, there are 7 beneficiaries of the Sabbath. The first Hebrew verse of Genesis consists of 7 words. God created 7 universes – the 7th universe hosts the pure souls, hence “the 7th Heaven.” There were 7 monumental Jewish leaders – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David, representing 7 key human qualities. There were 7 Jewish Prophetesses – Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chana, Abigail, Hulda and Esther. There are 7 major Jewish holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Tabernacles, Chanukah, Purim, Passover and Shavou’ot. There was a 7-day-recess between the Ten Plagues of Egypt. The ancient Jewish Temple had a 7-branch-Menorah (candelabra). There are 7 species of the Land of Israel – barley, wheat, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive and date/honey. The Jubilee follows a 7 seven-year-cycle.

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Purim Guide for the Perplexed 2023

More on Purim in my eBook: Smashwords, Amazon

  1. “Purimfest 1946” yelled Julius Streicher, the Nazi propaganda chief, as he approached the hanging gallows in Nuremberg (Newsweek, October 28, 1946, page 46). On October 16, 1946, ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged (just as the ten sons of Haman were hung in ancient Persia).

Julius Streicher’s ranch served as a camp for young Jewish Holocaust survivors on their way to Israel, one of them was the late Eliezer Cotler, the grandfather of my son-in-law.  While reading books at Streicher’s library, he noticed that the Nazi war criminal had a collection of books on Purim, with red ink underlining all references to the fate of the Amalekites and Haman.  Streicher assumed that the origin of the Aryan race was in Persia, with a connection to the descendants of the Amalekites, who were the worst enemies of the Jewish people. He believed that Purim documented the fate of the enemies of the Jewish people; hence, Streicher’s yell: “Purim Fest 1946”.

  1. Purim’s historical background:

^A Jewish exile to Babylon and Persia was triggered by the 586 BCE destruction of the 1st Jewish Temple and the expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria by the Babylonian Emperor, Nebuchadnezzar.

^Persia replaced Babylon as the leading regional power.

^In 538 BCE, Xerxes the Great, Persia’s King Ahasuerus, the successor of Darius the Great, proclaimed his support for the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Jewish Temple and the resurrection of national Jewish life in the Land of Israel.

^In 499-449 BCE, Ahasuerus established a coalition of countries – from India to Ethiopia – which launched the Greco-Persian Wars, aiming to expand the Persian Empire westward.

^Persia was resoundingly defeated (e.g., the 490 BCE and 480 BCE battles of Marathon and Salamis), and Ahasuerus’ authority in Persia was gravely eroded.

  1. Purim is a Jewish national liberation holiday – just like Passover and Chanukah – which highlights optimism and the transition of the Jewish people from subjugation to liberty. It is celebrated seven days following the birth and death date of Moses – a role model of liberty, leadership and humility.

Purim is celebrated (evening of March 7 – day of March 8, 2023), when the cold and stormy winter shifts into the upbeat, warm and pleasant spring.

  1. Purim is celebrated on the 14th/15th day of the Jewish month of Adar, which ushers in happiness. Adar is the root of the Hebrew adjective Adir (אדיר), which stands for the adjectives glorious, exalted and magnificent. It is, also, a derivative of the Akkadian word Adura (heroism).
  2. Remembrance is at the core the Purim holiday. The Scroll of Esther – which narrates the Purim saga – is also named The Book of Remembrance.  The pre-Purim Sabbath is called The Sabbath of Remembrance (זכור), commemorating the deadly threat of the Amalekites  (the ancestors of Haman), who aimed to annihilate the Jewish people following the deliverance from Egyptian bondage.
  1. Queen Esther is Purim’s heroine. The Scroll of Esther is one of the 5 Biblical Scrolls, which are highlighted on Jewish holidays: Song of Songs (Passover), Scroll of Ruth (Pentecost), Lamentations (the 9th day of Av – destruction of the Jewish Temple), Ecclesiastes (Feast of Tabernacles) and The Scroll of Esther (Purim). Esther (Mordechai’s niece or cousin) symbolized the centrality of women in Judaism, as did Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah (the Matriarchs), Miriam (Moses’ older sister), Batyah (who saved Moses’ life), Deborah (the Prophetess, Judge and military leader), Hannah (Samuel’s mother) and Yael (who killed Sisera, the Canaanite General).

Esther was one of the 7 Biblical Jewish Prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther (Megillah tractate of the Mishnah, 14:71).  Sarah lived 127 years and Esther was the Queen of 127 countries.

The name Esther was a derivative of Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of beauty and fertility, as well as Stara, the Persian morning star, which is a symbol of deliverance. The name evolved into Aphrodite and Venus, the Greek and Roman goddesses of love, beauty and fertility. The Hebrew word for Venus is Noga, which is a Biblical divine light and the second-brightest star after the moon.  It is the name of my oldest, very special granddaughter.   The Hebrew name of Esther was Hadassah, whose root is Hadass, which is the Hebrew word for the myrtle tree. The myrtle tree features prominently during the Feast of Tabernacles. It is known for its pleasant scent and humble features, including leaves in the shape of the human eye.  Greek mythology identifies the myrtle tree with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.

  1. Mordechai, the hero of Purim and one of the deputies of Ezra the Scribe – who led a wave of Jewish ingathering from Babylon to the Land of Israel – was a role model of principle-driven optimism in defiance of colossal odds, in the face of a super power, and in defiance of the assimilated Jewish establishment. The first three Hebrew letters of Mordechai (מרדכי) spell the Hebrew word “rebellion” (מרד). Mordechai did not bow to Haman, when the latter was the second most powerful person in the Persian Empire.  Mordechai was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, the only son of Jacob who did not bow to Esau. Mordechai was a descendant of King Saul, who defied a clear commandment to eradicate the Amalekites, sparing the life of Agag, the Amalekite king, thus precipitating further calamities upon the Jewish People. Mordechai learned from Saul’s crucial error and eliminated Haman, a descendant of Agag the Amalekite, thus sparing the Jewish People from a major disaster.  The aim of Mordechai who became the chief advisor to the King of Persia – was to alert the assimilated Jewish community of Persia, that forgetfulness and detachment from their Jewish roots would lead to oblivion, while the attachment to historic and religious roots is the foundation of growth, security and respect by fellow human beings.
  1. Purim’s (פורים) Hebrew root is “fate” as well as “casting lots” (פור), commemorating Haman’s lottery which determined a designated day for the annihilation of the Jewish People. It also means “to frustrate,” “to annul” (הפר), “to crumble” and “to shutter” (פורר), reflecting the demise of Haman.

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Support Appreciated











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