While Pesach marks the Jewish people’s beginnings as a people, Shavuot (literally meaning “weeks”), marks a culmination and a celebration. Shavuot is a celebration of the anniversary of the Jewish people's receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. In ancient times, Shavuot also marked the first time in the year that bikkurim (first fruits) were brought to the Temple. In the period between Pesach and Shavuot, the Torah instructs to “count from the eve of the second day of Pesach, when an omer of grain is to be brought as an offering, seven complete weeks.” The practice of counting from the eve of the second day of Pesach continues to this day and referrers to the 49-day practice of Counting the Omer. From its origins as a time of anticipation towards the first agricultural offerings or the receiving of Torah, the Omer Period took on additional meaning and become a period of mourning. It is related in the Talmud that during this period 12,000 pairs of Rabbi Akiva’s students perished from a plague (Yevamot 62b). A communal time of mourning continues in some communities during the Omer period with some refraining from weddings, concerts, and even cutting one’s hair. This time of communal mourning takes place for 48 days, temporarily breaking on Lag B’omer (33rd Day of the Omer) to commemorate the day when the plague broke.
Shavuot and closing of the Omer period this year mark a third moment in time beyond bikkurim and receiving Torah. Shavuot and the closing of the period of the Omer marks a return to community. The sadness and heaviness of the Omer mourning is lifted for joyous holiday meals and celebrations. In some communities, it is customary to gather together and stay up all night studying Torah and other Jewish texts the first night of Shavuot, in sessions called Tikkun Leil Shavuot. The book of Ruth is read during synagogue services because her conversion to and acceptance of Judaism is analogous to the Jewish people's accepting of the Torah (and also because the story takes place around the same time of year as Shavuot). Some religious school graduations or confirmations are also held on Shavuot.
As we enter the 5780 (2020) period of the Omer, we are hoping that you will also be Counting on Community. While we may not be able to gather physically, the Jewish community is working together to provide a variety of learning and engagement opportunities to help us stay connected. We will work together to Curate a variety of national resources and learning opportunities, to Cultivate local learning opportunities, and create quality Content and Connection opportunities for this time. These opportunities will include Omer/Shavuot specific opportunities and well as community gathering and learning forums to make sure we are Counting on Community.