The festival of Shavuot has no designated date in the Torah. In Deuteronomy, the festival is to be celebrated not on a set date but on a day that’s relative to the agricultural season:
“You shall count off seven weeks; start to count the seven weeks when the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall observe the Feast of Weeks for Adonai your God, offering your freewill contribution according as Adonai your God has blessed you.”
Deuteronomy 16:9-10; The New JPS Translation according to the Traditional Hebrew Text with modification by Cantor Juval Porat
Preceded by weeks of harvesting, the festival marks the season of offering the first agricultural produce, the “first fruits.” The Mishna in tractate Bikkurim provides a vivid and colorful description of the custom of offering the first fruits in the Temple, which stood in Jerusalem. The villagers and town dwellers would make their way to Jerusalem, carrying their offerings. A bull, adorned with agricultural embellishments, would be at the forefront of the caravan of pilgrims and the residents of Jerusalem would step out of their homes and into the streets to welcome the many visitors carrying their offerings.
During the time of the Second Temple a fixed date (the second day of Passover) was designated for starting the counting of the Omer, which also determined a set date for the celebration of Shavuot (the 6th of Sivan – 7 weeks after Passover). What started out as an agricultural holiday later evolved into the celebration of the gift of the Torah to the Jewish people – another event whose exact date is not specified in the book in which it is described. As with Shavuot, the text invites the reader to do the math to determine the date by providing information about the time that precedes the event. In the case of the giving of the Ten Commandments it would be time the Israelites spent in the desert, following their exodus from Egypt.
The shift from a solely agricultural holiday to one of celebrating revelation came with the destruction of the Temple, the Diaspora and the ceasing of offering the first fruits in Jerusalem. Later on, in the 16th century the Kabbalists of Zefat expanded upon the theme by creating the custom of the Tikkun – the nightly spiritual preparation for noting the Torah, its gifts and significance for the Jewish people.
This year, at BCC, we will observe and celebrate Shavuot once more, charged not only with the offerings of our metaphorical new fruits but also with our own journeys of the season. As in the Torah, with its insightful method of determining dates by referencing prior experiences and journeys that lead up to the destined day of celebration, we are inspired to look back at our personal and communal journeys that have been leading us towards this day of revelation and receiving of Torah.
For this year – my tenth (!) year at BCC – I’ve been thinking, if my journey were a three-lane yellow brick road leading me to Shavuot (for more ideas on how to reclaim one’s own yellow brick road, check out our archived live stream of this year’s Wizard of BCC Purim Spiel), I’d be inclined to call one lane the “Journey as an LGBTQIA person.” I’d look at the ways I’ve evolved in understanding my role in LGBTQIA culture, communities, politics and activism. I’d look at the ways in which I’ve grown in my sense of acceptance of who I am, the taming of my inner homophobe, the gift of queerness and the shared experience that bonds me with other members of the LGBTQIA community around the world.
I’d call the second lane the “Journey as a Jew” and would use Shavuot as an opportunity to look at the wonder, blessings, opportunities, and challenges of Judaism, as well as my struggles with inhabiting a Jewish identity – starting off in a modern Orthodox environment, then shifting to German Reform and then to American Reform. All the music, experiences and relationships, as well as my lessons, daily reminders and my own imperfections I have been blessed to welcome into my life are already a revelation in and of themselves.
The third lane of my journey this year would be the “Journey with my co-clergy Rabbi Lisa Edwards,” which comes to a particularly bittersweet end (and a new beginning!) this year, as Rabbi Lisa enters retirement. This year I get to reminisce on all that has led up to my tenth year at BCC with Rabbi Lisa as my clergy partner. On this particular journey I see Lisa’s kindness, wisdom, open heart, authenticity, integrity and thoughtfulness and how they made me a better spiritual leader. I see Lisa’s warmth, forgiveness, insight, quiet fierceness and grace and how they lifted me up and made me a better friend. Lisa’s humor, generosity, sweetness, peacefulness and compassion and how she helped me befriend myself and share those qualities with others. My life has truly been impacted for the better. That in itself is a revelation.
I’m sure there are many more lanes for me and for you to find, and many lanes that overlap and many more individual journeys that come to a head on Shavuot, to mark a sort of ending and a new beginning. Can you think how you’d frame your own journey?
A lucky coincidence in the calendar allows us to celebrate Shavuot on the very same weekend during which Pride takes place in Los Angeles and so, while we at BCC always bring that added LGBTQIA flavor into everything we do, this year celebrating Shavuot seems extra special.
We’ll have our usual Pride Shabbat on Friday, June 7. And then, to add extra specialness, this year BCC is teaming up with Temple Isaiah for a night of “True Colors: A Shavuot Experience”, in which we’ll join for a spiritual and musical celebration of Shavuot and Pride Weekend featuring music, spoken word, teachings, storytelling, food and community. On Saturday evening, June 8, at 8:00 pm, we are fortunate to be joined by Temple Isaiah’s clergy and choir for a night that surely will be inspirational. For more information on our Shavuot and Pride celebration, please check out our post on the event.
I’m also very much looking forward to welcoming Kathy Simon to BCC this month (May 17-19) for a weekend long residency filled with workshops on how to apply Non Violent Communication in our lives. Check out my article from the previous G’vanim edition for more information on Kathy and the NVC weekend.
And last but not least, we hope you can join us for a very special Shabbat service featuring and honoring Lezbtzn extraordinaire Tracy Moore on June 21st. As always, all events and programming can be found on BCC’s online calendar.
Wishing you and yours an incredible and meaningful lead-up to Shavuot.
In gratitude and peace,
Editor’s Note: One of Cantor Porat’s songs is included in the new Shabbat Anthology songbook, volume IX! See below.