Oz Torah: The red-letter date – Shavu’ot


As a child Moses found that Shavu’ot was already a red-letter date in his life. Not just because the Torah was due to be given to him that day, even though that is so highly important.

But some of the sages link Shavu’ot with the birth of the baby who was going to become Israel’s leader and teacher.

Born on 7 Adar, he was hidden for three months, coming out of concealment on 7 Sivan, i.e. Shavu’ot.

What protected him during these months? God’s gift of Nature! As a baby his ark was hidden amongst the bulrushes, like a tree that protects a person with its shade, nature gave Baby Moses safety.

When Shavu’ot came into being the date already had significance in Moses’ life.



Manhattan Shul decorated on Shavuos.

Shavu’ot sees foliage and flowers in the synagogue, reminding us of two things – the flourishing of nature that is at its peak at this time of year (in Israel and the northern hemisphere), and the rabbinic notion that when the Torah was given even the barren rocks of the mountain sprouted greenery.

In some places the favourite flower is lilies of the valley, recalling the midrashic allegory that the people of Israel are the lily that figures in the Song of Songs.

As with many aspects of Jewish ritual and ceremony, Christianity borrowed an idea and presented it as its own – the decking of churches with plants and flowers to mark Whitsun.

The greenery teaches both a spiritual and ethical lesson.

Spiritually it reminds us that the world’s blessings which come from God are a major reason to bless the Creator.

From the ethical point of view it reminds us that the precious gifts of nature will be compromised and jeopardised if we in our generation fail to appreciate and cultivate them.



The Book of Ruth is read on Shavu’ot.

There are many attempts to explain the name Ruth.

There are lexicographers who derive it from “re’ut”, friendship, since her insistence on staying with her mother-in-law Naomi was so touching.

Others think it comes from the word “ra’ah”, to see, indicating her moral beauty – or, according to the Midrash, because “ra’atah”, she looked to the leadership of Naomi.

There is a Talmudic opinion that the name is connected with her descendant David who delighted God (“rivahu”, coming from “ravah”) with his poems and psalms.

It is interesting that in g’matria, the letters of Ruth add up to 606 which combines with the seven rabbinic mitzvot to make 613, the traditional enumeration of the commandments.



Q. What is the most important commandment in the Decalogue?

A. I once put this same question to a group of students and one of them answered,

“The most important one isn’t even there.

It is

‘Thou shalt not get found out’.”

The rest of the group made other, less facetious suggestions.

Strangely, no-one echoed what the commentator Nachmanides (the Ramban) said. His view was that the most important commandment was number 10 –

“Thou shalt not covet”.

He said that coveting, envying what belongs to other people, is the root of all the problems in human history.

People want other people’s houses, their fields, their money, their wives. It is bad enough when they think these thoughts; the really serious problem comes when the notion in their minds turns to action and it leads them to transgress the other commandments and to kill, steal, commit adultery and lie.

If they took seriously their duties to God they would comply with their duties to their fellow human beings.

The Ramban explains that the reason the Ten Commandments in Ex. 20 are followed by Parashat Mishpatim with its civil and criminal legislation is that only with a Divinely-authorised legal code will a person be held back from coveting and turning the coveting from theory into practice.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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