The third of the three biblical festivals, Shavuot is the anniversary of the day that God gave us the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is odd that most people are not even aware of the existence of this important Holiday!

The name of the holiday, “Shavuot”, or “weeks”, commemorates the seven full weeks between Passover and receiving the Torah. At first blush this may seem like an odd name. What is being conveyed by calling the holiday “weeks” is the connecting of the Passover exodus to the receiving the Torah. Why? Because without receiving the Torah the Jews would have been no different than any other ancient people and the Jewish people and the Passover story would have been forgotten long ago. We are literally counting the weeks and the days in excitement until we receive the Torah. (It is a mitzvah to count each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot)

The Torah reading recounts the giving of the Torah and includes the “Ten Commandments”. If one were to examine the verses (Exodus 20:2), you would observe something very interesting. Unlike every other religion, in which God speaks only to one person, God gave the Torah to the entire Jewish people! This is a critical difference. Practioners of any other religion believe in one person faithfully transmitting what God said to them (or even if God said anything to them). We believe that God spoke to our entire nation, publically. Famously, Cecil B. Demille got it wrong in “The Ten Commandments”. God did not give the Torah to Moses privately! (I guess you should stick with the book and not the movie.)

Shavuot is sometimes jokingly referred to as ‘the cheesecake holiday’. When the Torah was first given on that first Shavuot, we received the laws, including the ban on eating dairy and meat together. Since the nation did not have immediate access to additional sets of dishes, they used their dishes only for dairy. We commemorate this by eating dairy on Shavuot. Eating cheesecake is only a popular application of this concept. Certainly eating less caloric, healthier, dairy dishes is perfectly acceptable.

The Book of Ruth is also read on Shavuot. One reason it is read is because Ruth is a story of a woman who sincerely converted to Judaism, taking upon herself all of the mitzvoth, not just the ‘cool ones’, logical ones, or easy ones. The goal on Shavuot is to emulate Ruth and accept the Torah with the same level of commitment.