While the holiday of Shavuos is a celebration in itself — the day we Jews received the Torah on Sinai — it can be also considered a continuation of the holiday of Pesach, of Passover. Here’s how: Pesach is all about our physical redemption — we were taken out out of slavery into freedom. Once free from the degradation of Egyptian bondage, our people could start to expand their horizons to more spiritual matters, and to mature to the point where they could rise above their physical needs.

Now comes Shavuos, a full 7 weeks after leaving Egypt, when we had been purified in the desert long enough to accept the Torah. We Jews agreed to become the nation of G-d, taking on the ultimate redemption, when man can strive for something higher than physical desires, to be free of their constraint. That’s why our sages said, “Ayn lecha ben chorin, elah mee she’osek b’Torah.” “There is no really free person other than the one who gets busy with Torah.” When a person chooses to do the right thing, even as his body desires the wrong thing, that is a person “free” from limitations.

The Customs Of Shavuos

Flowers and Greenery

Ever walked into a Jewish home or synagogue on Shavuos and noticed all the flowers and greenery? It’s a tradition that commemorates the blossoming of flowers on Mt. Sinai on the day we received the Torah. The rose, the flower that’s so beautiful it makes the thorns worthwhile, symbolizes the Jewish nation, the “rose among thorns.” All the challenges of this world are made worthwhile for the sake of a nation that accepts Torah.

Learning all Night

In one of the biggest miscalculations of Jewish history, the people overslept the morning they were supposed to receive the Torah. To rectify that short-sight, many Jews stay up all Shavuos night, demonstrating that we now know how precious the Torah is. For them, the tradition is to spend the night learning Torah with their chavrusas (learning partners) and to daven vesikin at first light.


On all other holidays we eat a festive meal of fish and meat. But on Shavuos we eat a dairy meal instead. There are a number of reasons why… one is to commemorate the giving of the laws of kashrus while we were still in the desert. Not able to kasher our kitchens right away and separate milk from meat, we kept kosher at first by eating only dairy. And those blintzes many indulge in on Shavuos? They’re to remind us of the Torah scroll all rolled up.

Special Foods

Many local Jewish communities developed their own unique culinary traditions. In old Magencza, the women would bake special sweet challahs called “Sinai,” and they would use the occasion to initiate their small children’s education (instead of the day of Upsherin, the first haircut). In old Frankfurt, they would bake a delicacy in the shape of a ladder with seven rungs to show the splitting of the seven skies at Kabbalas HaTorah.

Megillas Rus

Megillas Rus, the Scroll of Ruth, is read on Shavuos morning. One of the reasons is that Dovid HaMelech, King David, who is the great-grandson of Ruth, was born and died on Shavuos. This megillah maps out his lineage. Dovid HaMelech is the one king whose kingdom will continue into the times of Moshiach. The final week of counting the omer, which is the final week leading up to Shavuos, is all about the sefira of malchus, the heavenly quality of sovereignty.

Akdomus Millin

In the Ashkenazic tradition, many read the Aramaic piyut (prayer poem) Akdamos Millin, which was written by Rabbi Meir ben Rav Yitzchok in the 11th century as a prelude to the Jewish wedding ceremony. The giving of the Torah at Sinai was like the giving of the Kesubah at a wedding —  the Torah itself is considered the “marriage contract”  between G-d and the Jewish nation. So, too, we read Akdamos Milling as a prelude to the Torah reading on Shavuos day. 

Torah Reading On Shavous Day

We always read the Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments, in shul on Shavuos day. The congregation stands during the reading, accepting upon ourselves the same enthusiastic commitment to accept G-d’s commandments as we did at Mt. Sinai over 3300 years ago.
The one who reads the Torah portion, the Baal Koreh, chants a special melody for Shavuos known as Ta’am Elyonim. How does he know how the tune goes?  When you look at the Torah portion in a chumash, you’ll see two sets of squiggles, some below the letters and some above. These symbols are what tell the Baal Koreh how to sing the words. Usually, the Baal Koreh follows the symbols that are below the letters. On Shavuos, however, he ignores the symbols beneath the letters and focuses on the symbols above the letters. He chants in what is called Ta’am Elyonim, the “upper” tune. This reminds us that when we accept the Torah we are “above” this world. We rise above physicality and become higher, more spiritual than mere human beings.

The Ten Commandments

I am the lord your G-d who took you out of Egypt from the house of slavery.
אָנֹכִי ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים

Acceptance of G-d is the first commandment.

You should not have any other gods before me. Don’t make graven images and don’t bow down to them or serve them.
לֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל פָּנָי, לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל תְּמוּנָה אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ. לֹא תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם, כִּי אָנֹכִי ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֵל קַנָּא, פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבֹת עַל בָּנִים עַל שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל רִבֵּעִים לְשׂנְאָי, וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לַאֲלָפִים לְאֹהֲבַי וּלְשֹׁמְרֵי מִצְוֹתָי

No worship of anything other than G-d.

Don’t take the name of G-d in vain
לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת שֵׁם ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא, כִּי לֹא יְנַקֶּה ה’ אֵת אֲשֶׁר יִשָּׂא אֶת שְׁמוֹ לַשָּׁוְא

You can’t swear with G-d’s name for trifling matters and can’t swear falsely.  (that is why Jews who are in a court will say “I affirm” rather than “I swear”)

Remember the day of Shabbos to sanctify it. Six weeks work and on the seventh day, it is a day for G-d and you don’t do any work, not you, your son, daughter, servants, animals or stranger who lives within your gates because G-d made the heaven and earth and all therein in six days and on the seventh he rested – therefore G-d blessed this day and sanctified it.
זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ. שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל מְלַאכְתֶּךָ, וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ. לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה כָל מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ וּבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ. כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים עָשָׂה ה’ אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ, אֶת הַיָּם וְאֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר בָּם, וַיָּנַח בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, עַל כֵּן בֵּרַךְ ה’ אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת וַיְקַדְּשֵׁהוּ

There are two places in the Bible where the Ten Commandments are written.  In one place it says, Watch the Shabbos and here it says Remember the Shabbos.  Watch the Shabbos means make sure you don’t transgress the negative commandments associated with Shabbos – such as lighting a fire, etc.   Remember the Shabbos means you need to keep the positive commandments of Shabbos – candlelighting, Kiddush, Challos, serving delicious foods, wearing nicer clothing, etc.
Don’t do any work:  this means the work that was done to assemble the Tabernacle and is therefore classified as work according to the laws of Sabbath.  Mankind doesn’t define what is work vis a vis Shabbos.  There are 39 categories of labor that are considered work according to G-d’s laws.
Keeping Shabbos testifies that we know G-d created the world and is master of it.

Honor your father and mother.
כַּבֵּד אֶת אָבִיךָ וְאֶת אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ
Don’t murder.
לֹא תִרְצַח
Don’t commit adultery.
לֹא תִנְאָף
Don’t steal (kidnap)
לֹא תִגְנֹב

This commandment is only about stealing people, not about stealing possessions.  Stealing is wrong, but is not liable  for the death penalty and is not one of the ten commandments.  Not stealing a soul is one of the ten commandments.

Don’t be a false witness against your peer.
לֹא תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁקֶר
Don’t covet the house of your peer, his wife, his servants, his cattle or any of his possessions.
לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ. לֹא תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ

Any person transgressing any of the Ten Commandments is liable for the death penalty.

Lining Up The Ten Commandments

The Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments, were written in two columns on a tablet made of sapphire. On one side are commandments that pertain to laws governing the relationship between Man and G-d.  The other side is about the relationship between Man and Man. The two sets of commandments align in a very specific way.
The first commandment in the left column is “I am G-d.”  The first commandment in the right column is “Don’t Murder.”  This teaches that each person is created in the image of G-d. When we murder we are destroying an image of G-d.
The second commandment in column 1 is “No Idol Worship.”  Its counterpart in column 2 is “No Adultery.”  G-d considers idol worship to be like an adulterous relationship. We are supposed to be in an exclusive relationship with G-d, just as we are in our marriages.
Third in column 1 is “Don’t Swear Falsely.”  In column 2, the third commandment is “Don’t Kidnap.” A short story will illustrate: A man once came to the rabbi and said “I’m a thief. That is the one thing I won’t change about myself, but I’ll take on any other commandment you tell me to do.”  So the rabbi said, “Never tell a lie.”  The man came back months later, a reformed person, no longer a robber. When asked why, he said he realized that in order not to lie, he had to stop stealing. If he were not to lie, whenever he might be asked in court whether he robbed, he would have to admit to his crimes and he would be put away for life. Because he would not swear falsely, he knew he could no longer rob.
In the left column, the fourth commandment is the “Keep the Sabbath.” On the right, the fourth listed is “Do Not Testify Falsely.” By keeping Shabbos we testify that we know G-d created the world. When we don’t keep Shabbos we testify falsely.
The last commandment in column 1 is “Honor Your Parents.”  On the opposite side the last commandment is “Do Not Covet.” G-d gives each of us the raw materials for our lives: our bodies, our abilities, even the parents we have. This parallel shows us that should not be jealous of anyone else’s stuff. We have exactly what we need for our own unique mission in life — including the perfect parents

Who Knows Ten?

I know Ten.  Ten are the commandments on the Luchos.  Ten are the Sefiros (Seven that pertain to our world and Three beyond).  Ten are the utterances that created the world.  Ten are the generations that G-d waits for a good person to come along (Adam until Noach, then another Ten from Noach until Avraham).  Ten are the tribulations/tests of Avraham. Ten are the plagues that G-d wrought on the Egyptians. Ten constant miracles happened in the times of the Bais HaMikdash.  Ten are the Mitzvos that go into having bread on our table so we hold the bread with all Ten fingers when making the Hamotzee blessing. A PERFECT TEN — beyond physical limitations — let’s soar by accepting the call of the Ten Commandments this Shavuos.

Children’s Video

Shavuos In Belz

Shavous, the Day of Receiving the Torah, is a highlight in Belz. The whole life of Judaism and Chassidus is focused around the Torah, so on Shavous we are celebrating the receiving of what is the essence of our being, The Holy Torah.

The Last Sefirah

On the night before Shavous the Rebbe comes into the Heichal (Big Shul) for the Counting of the 49th Day of Sefiras Ha’omer. After the Tefila, hundreds of visitors who have arrived from around the world to be with the rebbe for Shavous, would pass and greet the Rebbe.

July 31, 2021


Koh Somar L’bais Yaakov

The founder of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, shares the same Yahrtzeit as King David — the second day of Shavuos. Both men are tied to the concept of Messianic arrival. King David is the first in the Davidic line from which will eventually produce and bring Moshiach, who will be king thereafter. And the Baal Shem Tov once asked Moshiach in Heaven when he would come down. Moshiach answered, “When your teachings will spread to the whole world.”
On Erev Shavuos, the Baal Shem Tov prepared for his own death. He finalized his will, ensuring his legacy. He bequeathed most of his seforim, his holy books, to one of his students who would take on the mantle of leadership after the Baal Shem Tov. However, any sefer that was in Yiddish he left to his daughter Adel.
The way he settled his affairs mirrors another aspect of Shavuos. Here’s how: We are told that when the Jewish nation accepted the Torah, the melachim, the angels, protested: they didn’t think the Torah should be given to beings of flesh and blood. Arguments went back and forth how to ensure that these mere mortals would not bring shame to the Torah. Even the merit of our illustrious ancestors was not enough of a guarantee for the melachim. However, when the Jewish women said that they would guarantee their children would learn Torah, the melachim acquiesced. The revelation at Mount Sinai was given. That is why the Torah says (Shemos 19:3), “Koh Somar l’Bais Yaakov,” “So shall you say to the House of Yaakov.” Moshe was instructed to teach the women first (“House” refers to the women). In his will, the Baal Shem Tov also made sure to single out a woman as a recipient of his tradition. He left a legacy of learning to his daughter, not only to his male students.
It is interesting to note that the Baal Shem Tov stipulated that the holy books in Yiddish be given to his daughter. Perhaps that is why Chassidic girls’ schools do all their teaching of Torah in Yiddish to this day.