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Why do we eat dairy foods on Shavuot?

by Rabbi Baruch E. Erdstein, Nechama Dina Kumer

  

Library » Holidays » Shavuot » Laws and Customs | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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On Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah. This gift was one of complete compassion and loving-kindness, for with the Torah we were given the tools (i.e. knowledge, commandments) to connect with the infinite and otherwise unknowable Creator.

Dairy foods are associated with the loving, nurturing generosity exemplified by a mother nursing her baby. It is this supreme love that we connect to on the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. New beginnings and connecting to the Source is what Shavuot is all about.

Here are a number of other reasons for the custom to eat dairy on the first day of Shavuot:

1. Chalav—the Hebrew word for milk—has the numerical value (Gematriah) of 40 reminding us the number of days and nights that Moses remained on Mt. Sinai.

2. One of the eight different names for Mt. Sinai is "Gavnunim," which means white like cheese.

3. The words in the Torah referring to the Shavuot holiday offering are "Minchah chadashah l'Hashem b'shavuotaychem," which are also an acronym for the Hebrew word m'chalav—"from milk."

4. When the Jews received the Torah on Shavuot they were commanded only to eat meat which was ritually slaughtered. Since none of their meat was previously slaughtered and the Torah was given on Shabbat -- when it is forbidden to slaughter animals -- they were forced to eat dairy for the rest of the day.

5. Shavuot is the completion of a spiritual process that we begin on Passover, and their respective holiday offerings represent the stages of this process. At the Passover Seder we have two cooked dishes to commemorate the two offering brought on Passover in the Temple times. To connect the two holidays, we eat two cooked foods on Shavuot as well—one meat and one dairy.

6. Two loaves of bread were offered in the Holy Temple on the holiday of Shavuot. To commemorate this offering we eat two meals on Shavuot; one dairy and one meat (eating meat is mandatory on every festival).


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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Seder
Festive meal eaten on the first two nights of the holiday of Passover (In Israel, the Seder is observed only the first night of the holiday). Seder highlights include: reading the story of the Exodus, eating Matzah and bitter herbs, and drinking four cups of wine.
Shavuot
Early summer festival marking the day when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai in the year 2448 (1312 BCE).
Hashem
"The Name." Out of respect, we do not explicitly mention G-d's name, unless in the course of prayer. Instead, "Hashem" is substituted.
Minchah
Afternoon prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.