Got Milk? Celebrate Shavuot

Screenshot of computer monitor with many zoom windows open

On Shavuot, we ritualize eating cheese and studying Torah. Sometimes our ancestors just get it right, and they really got this holiday right. Want to study an obscure ancient text? Shavuot. Want to eat a blintz while you study that text? Shavuot. Shavuot is a Jewish nerd’s dream holiday (just don’t forget the Lactaid pills).

Traditionally, Shavuot is a harvest festival that celebrates the receiving of Torah at Mt. Sinai. During the Biblical days of Shavuot when the Temple stood, the Israelites would bring the first fruits of their harvest as a sacrifice for God. Because this holiday is so focused on the Land of Israel, and because the Land of Israel is often described as the Land of Milk and Honey, we eat cheese on Shavuot! Why? Because it shows our dedication to God. Really. Eat the cheesecake.

On Shavuot, we also celebrate the receiving of Torah at Mt. Sinai. Our tradition believes that when we engage with Jewish text, whether it is the Torah, Mishnah, Talmud, or a really great Jewish book, it is as if we are receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai again and again. And so, throughout the night of Shavuot, Jews all over the world will stay up and study Torah until dawn. This studying symbolizes the idea that if Torah were to be passed down again today, we would be ready to receive those holy words.

So what can you do to celebrate Shavuot? Join your Washington Hebrew family at one of these events:

  • Some of our clergy will teach and participate in Temple Israel of Boston’s 5th Annual Tikkun Zoom Shavuot: 25 Hours of Online Learning. This nationwide day of learning will explore a multitude of Jewish topics to bring Sinai and Torah to life in the modern day. Tuesday, June 11, 5:00 pm – Wednesday, June 12, 6:00 pm, Zoom
  • I’ll be teaching at Sixth & I as part of Sinai Slam: An Alternative Shavuot Experience. There will be four rabbis, Ten Commandments, and one piece of cheesecake with your name on it. Wednesday, June 11, 7:00 pm, 6th & I NW
  • Attend our Shavuot Yizkor service where we will chant the Ten Commandments and take some time to honor those we have lost this year, as well as those who we always hold in our hearts. Wednesday, June 12, 10:30 am, Temple

And here are some options for how you can celebrate on your own:

  • Eat cheese. Blintzes. Cheesecake. Burekas. Pizza. Fettucine alfredo. Doesn’t matter, as long as it is dairy.
  • Read something. The Torah portion. A midrash — an ancient story based on the Torah. A book by a Jewish philosopher (Martin Buber and Rachel Adler are personal favorites). A Jewish fiction book (we know Philip Roth is controversial, but he writes a good book). Read anything that feels spiritual and meaningful to you.
  • Eat a peach or another fruit that we tend to only get this time of year. Savor the sweetness and thank God for the gifts we are given each season.

Chag Sameach!