YomTov, Vol. I, # 26
Shavu'os - Its Customs
by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
There are many customs associated with Shavu'os and we will try to touch
on most of the major ones.
One prevalent custom is that of staying up all night on the first night of
Shavu'os and learning Torah. The Rama (in Orech Chayim 494) explains that we
do this because at the time the Torah was given, our forefathers slept
throughout the night. Hashem had to awaken the nation of Israel from their
slumber so the Torah could be given to them. In order to "repair" this fault
in our ancestors' reception of the Torah, we stay up all night, the
anniversary of the night our forefathers slept, learning the Torah which
they had to be awakened to receive.
One of the things traditionally studied on Shavu'os night is a compilation
of parts of both the Written and the Oral Torah, entitled Tikkun Leil
Shavu'os. This compilation was organized centuries ago. One noticeable
feature of the compilation is that in it, each book in the Written Torah
(Tanach) is begun and concluded, as well as each of the six books of the
Mishna. The reason for this stems from a teaching which we see applied in
the Kedusha said as part of Mussaf on Shabbos. In the Kedusha, we recite
"S'hma Yisroel" and we conclude that portion of Kedusha with "Ani Hashem
Elokeichem." Not coincidentally, these two verses are also the first and
last verses of the S'hma prayer. The reason why it appears in Kedusha is
because during our exile in Persia, the king forbade the saying of S'hma. In
order to circumvent the decree, the first and last verses of S'hma were
added to Kedusha, so it would be _considered_ as if we had said the whole
S'hma prayer, although not violating the king's decree. Similarly by
Shavu'os, we learn the beginning and end of each part of the Torah, so by
the end of the night, it is as if we had learned the Torah in its entirety.
(from Sefer Minhagei Yisroel Torah)
Another custom that we have is to eat dairy foods on Shavu'os. There are
many reasons give for this. The reason that the Rama (in 494:3) mentions has
to do with the special offering brought on Shavu'os, the Shtei HaLechem (see
YomTov # 23). The Rama says that just as on Pesach, we have food items that
represent the offerings brought on that day (on the Seder plate - The
Z'roa/Shankbone to represent the Paschal offering, and the Beitza/Egg to
represent the Chagiga/Holiday offering), so, too on Shavu'os we should eat
something to remember the bringing of the Shtei HaLechem. How is this done?
The law (which is being oversimplified here for brevity's sake) is that one
can not use the same loaf of bread for both a meat meal and a dairy meal. If
a loaf is eaten with the dairy meal, it can not be used at a meat meal.
Therefore, on Shavu'os, before we begin our meat meal, we should have dairy
foods. This way, when we continue our meal and have meat, we will need
another loaf of bread to eat with it. This will result in our having two
loaves of bread on our table, which is a remembrance of the two loaves that
were offered in the Temple on Shavu'os. The Mishna B'rura adds to this that
one should make the first loaf dairy by adding butter to it, so that it will
be absolutely necessary to have a second loaf when eating the meat portion
of the meal.
(***A caveat - before one undertakes having milk and meat at the same meal,
one should make sure that they act in accordance with proper Halacha - only
meat can be eaten after dairy. Dairy cannot be immediately eaten after meat.
Also, all vestiges of the dairy meal should be removed from the table before
the meat is served. As there are many other applicable laws with varying
levels of complexity, many people no longer eat both milk and meat and the
same meal. Some eat only dairy at the meal, or they eat two separate meals,
one after another, the first being dairy, the second being meat. For any
questions as to how one should conduct themselves, they should speak to
their local Rabbi. ***)
Another reason for eating dairy is so that we remember the situation our
ancestors were in immediately after receiving the Torah, on the anniversary
of our receiving the Torah. The Mishna B'rura tells us that right after the
nation of Israel received the Torah, the came away from Har Sinai, and were
faced with a quandary: What should they eat? They had just learned that
there were laws of keeping Kosher which they had not followed before, such
as the law that an animal is to be slaughtered and checked for blemishes in
a certain way. As they did not know the laws well, dairy foods were the only
option. Also, as all the food they had cooked previously was not "Kosher,"
the pots and other cooking utensils could not be used right away, as they
had to be "Kashered." Therefore, as their only choice of food at the time
was dairy, we eat dairy as well to remember the situation of our ancestors
at the time they received the Torah.
Another custom that we have is to spread out greenery in our homes and
synagogue on Shavu'os. The Levush says the reason for this is also so that
we remember how things were at the time the Torah was given. We know that
Har Sinai was full of greenery, as Hashem had to give a warning to the
nation of Israel that "also your sheep and cattle should not graze by this
mountain (Sh'mos 34:3). In order to remember that time, we too have
greenery, so we remember how things were at the time we received the Torah.
It is mentioned by the Magen Avraham that there used to be a custom as well
to bring trees into the synagogue on Shavu'os, as Shavu'os is the day the
fruit trees are judged as to how they will produce for the rest of the year.
If trees are there before us as we pray, we will be reminded to pray for the
fruit trees as well. However, the custom was abandoned when other religions
brought trees into their houses of worship on their holidays.
The Megilla of Rus (Ruth) is read in Shavu'os. Sefer Ta'amei Haminhagim
writes that we read this Megilla on Shavu'os because of the connection
between Ruth and King David. The Megilla of Ruth was written by the prophet
Sh'muel so that we would know the story of David's ancestors, and that David
came from this righteous woman. In the Tosafos on the tractate of Chagiga
(17a), we are told that David died on Shavu'os. As we have a tradition that
Hashem makes "complete" the lives of the righteous, it must be that David
was born on Shavu'os as well. It is therefore appropriate to read the story
of David's ancestors as an honor to him, on the day of his birth.
The Magen Avraham (490:8) tells us that there is another connection between
Ruth and Shavu'os. Just as the process leading to our receiving the Torah
was filled with pain and trying times, so too the path that Ruth took to
receiving the Torah was filled with the same.
Check out all of the posts on the Shavuos! Head over to
http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov to find the newly redesigned
YomTov Home Page, and click on the holiday you are interested in to find all of the archived posts on that
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.