Yom Tov – Shavuot

Question:  I am confused about Shavuot.  Is it the giving of the Torah or the 10 commandments to Moses or both.  Is it that the Commandments are contained in the Torah?  How did Moses receive the torah if the Torah contains the stories of Moses including his receiveing of the commandments and his death?  did he just recieve the laws only?

Answer: You questions are very good.  The Torah is not explicit about what Moses received from God during the 40 days he was on Mount Sinai, but at the very least it includes the legal material in Exodus as well as the instructions for building the mishkan, the portable Tabernacle in the wilderness.

The last few verses in the Torah, according to midrash, were either written by Joshua after the death of Moses, or were indeed written by Moses, with tears in his eyes, after he foresaw the details of his own death.

The material known as the “10 commandments” is actually just the beginning of several chapters of legal material.  We speak of the revelation of the 10 commandments on Shavuot because it was all or part of these commandments that was revealed to the entire Israelite people on the day of Shavuot, as opposed to the rest of the Torah which was revealed (in some way) to Moses alone during the next 40 days.

Question:  Why do we read the book of Ruth on Shavuot?

Answer: Each of the three pilgrimage festivals (Pesah, Shavuot, Sukkot) has one of the books from ketuvim (writings, the third section of the Tanakh) known as the megillot associated with it.  We read the book of Ruth on Shavuot for two reasons.

First, the events of the story occur during the barley and wheat harvest in late spring and early summer, which coincides with the period of Shavuot.  Aside from its connection to the revelation at Mount Sinai, Shavuot is a harvest festival celebrating the early summer wheat harvest which follows the Passover barley harvest.

But there is a deeper reason why we read Ruth on Shavuot.  As the story opens, she moves back to her native Moab with her husband and his brother (and wife) and their mother, Naomi.  When her husband and brother-in-law died, Naomi instructed her and her sister-in-law to stay in Moab, while she returned to Israel.

Orpah, her sister-in-law, stayed in Moab, but Ruth wanted to go with Naomi.  Although Naomi tried to persuade Ruth to return, Ruth responded in one of the most famous speeches in the Tanakh, “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” With these words, Ruth joined her life and fate to that of Jewish people, and became a ger tzedek, a righteous convert to Judaism.

On the first Shavuot, when the Torah was revealed to the Israelites, each one of them made the choice to accept the Torah – each one of them essentially became a Jew by Choice.  How much more true this is today, when we have the freedom to remain active, practicing, Jews or let ourselves drift away, that Shavuot is our opportunity to choose Judaism anew.  The story of Ruth gives us a role model of what it means to commit our lives so completely to living a Jewish life.