Shavuot – Background for parents and a Story for children

Background for Parents
Researched and written by Sylvia Rouss
Shavuot is celebrated seven weeks after Passover, usually in late May or early June when the wheat harvest ripens. Shavuot which means “weeks” is also known as the “Festival of  First Fruits.” In biblical times, farmers brought bread baked from the spring wheat harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem as gifts for God.
After the destruction of the Temple, this agricultural rite could no longer be observed.  As a result, Shavuot also became the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.
On Shavuot, synagogues are decorated with flowers and greenery. Many Jews spend the entire night after the evening service studying Torah. The story of Ruth is read the following morning because her story combines the acceptance of Jewish Law (as was done by the Jews at Sinai) with the wheat harvest.  Ruth, who was the great grandmother of King David, converted to Judaism and met her husband, Boaz, during the wheat harvest.
In Israel today, children celebrate this harvest by wearing floral wreaths and parading through their communities. Baskets of the first fruits of the season called “bikurrim” are donated to the needy.
The eating of dairy foods has become customary on Shavuot. One explanation for this tradition is that when Moses returned from Mount Sinai, the Jewish people did not have time to prepare a lavish meat meal to celebrate the occasion so they celebrated with dairy foods instead. Another reason often given is that, since Shavuot is a harvest holiday, grains made with milk should be eaten.  A third reason is that the learning of Torah is like milk and honey, healthy and sweet.

New Torah’s Lucky Day

(Adaptation by Sylvia Rouss from the story, The Lucky Torah, by Lillian S. Freehof)

A new Torah was placed into the synagogue Ark. I’m going to like it here,” announced the new Torah as she met the three other Torahs in the Ark.

There was Big Torah, Tall Torah, and Thin Torah. “We hope you’ll be happy living in this Ark with us,” they all exclaimed.

New Torah nodded just as the doors of the Ark began to open. “There’s the Rabbi!” whispered Thin Torah.

Today is Shabbat,” Big Torah explained. “The Rabbi will take one of us out and read the week’s portion.

The Rabbi reached in and gently picked up Tall Torah and took it out of the Ark.

“He chose Tall Torah this Shabbat,” said Thin Torah.

“Oh how lucky she is!” said New Torah. “I hope I will be chosen next Shabbat.”

Every Torah is just as good as any other Torah,” said Big Torah. “It’s just luck to be chosen for a service.”

Maybe next Shabbat will be my turn,” said New Torah hopefully.

“Torah’s aren’t only read on Shabbat,” explained Thin Torah. “On every holiday the Rabbi takes one of us out to read from.”

“Maybe the Rabbi will choose me on Sukkot,” said New Torah happily.

“No,” said big Torah. “Sukkot is past, Purim is past, and Pesach is past too.”

“Oh,” thought New Torah sadly. “Maybe I’ll never be lucky.”

The next Shabbat, Big Torah was chosen by the Rabbi. The following Shabbat it was Thin Torah’s turn. New Torah was happy for her friends. How lucky they were! She couldn’t help feeling a little sad that she had not yet been chosen for a service. Maybe she just wasn’t lucky.

A few days later all the Torahs were awakened early as the doors of the Ark were opened.

“What’s happening?” whispered New Torah.

“It’s time for Shavuot,” explained Big Torah. “Shavuot is a special holiday that celebrates the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Rabbi will dress us in our holiday clothes. We will all wear beautiful covers.

Each Torah was taken from the Ark and dressed in white velvet covers with gold braiding. New Torah wondered which one of her friends would be the lucky Torah for the Shavuot service. Would it be Tall Torah, Thin Torah, or Big Torah? “You all look so beautiful!” she exclaimed.

New Torah listened as the Shavuot service began. She could hear the sound of music through the doors of the Ark. She felt excited for her friends as she listened to the Rabbi open the doors of the Ark. Which one of them would be the lucky Torah?

The Rabbi reached in and New Torah saw him touch Big Torah, His hands gently passed from Big Torah to New Torah. New Torah felt herself being lifted into the Rabbi’s arms.

“Look!” said Tall Torah. “The Rabbi has chosen New Torah to be the lucky Torah for Shavuot.”

“Oh, I am lucky!” cried New Torah as she stood tall and straight in the Rabbi’s arms.

“Happy Shavuot,” said Thin Torah.

“Happy Shavuot,” said Tall Torah.

“Happy Shavuot,” said Big Torah.

“Happy Shavuot to all of you,” said the Lucky New Torah.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why do you think New Torah wanted a turn to be read just like the other Torahs?
  2. Do you want a turn when children are selected to do an activity during large group time? How do you feel when the teacher says, “Next time, you’ll get a turn.”
  3. Are you happy for your friends when they get to do something you don’t?
  4. The Torahs were dressed in beautiful white covers for Shavuot. What do you wear for special occasions?