First Fruits Rituals
Shavuot, the holiday of wheat harvest and the celebration of the revelation of Torah at Sinai, falls on June 13 and 14. Here are some rituals to help you celebrate.
Shavuot is Yom haBikkurim, the first-fruits holiday. It marks the beginning of summer abundance. It is traditional to decorate homes and synagogues with greens and flowers on Shavuot to recall the first fruits offered in the Temple at this season. If you've grown flowers or vegetables, bring some inside to grace your Shavuot table and symbolize the fruits of the season. Or, buy local produce to serve the same purpose. During your meal, talk about your offering and ask everyone at the table to talk about their own first fruits (whether vegetable, creative, work-related, etc.). Or, invite everyone to bring a different kind of first-fruits to your table.
Shavuot particularly celebrates the wheat harvest. In Temple times, bread was offered as a sacrifice on Shavuot. This bread represented nourishment for the year, and also represented human beings cooperating with the Divine to create sustenance for the world.
One great earth-based ritual to do in preparation for Shavuot is to bake a loaf of bread (preferably with local flour) and eat it on Shavuot evening at the first sacred meal of the holiday. While you are kneading, think of blessings you and your loved ones need and whisper them into the dough so that when you eat the bread you will be eating the blessings you most crave. Tell your family and guests what blessings they are eating and invite them to bless the bread as well as you say the blessing over bread. If bread is too hard to make this year, make cookies or cake and whisper your blessings as you are mixing!
Writing a Shavuot Wedding Contract
In the Jewish mystical tradition, Shavuot is a hieros gamos or sacred marriage between God and Israel, or between israel and the Torah, or between the Divine in heaven and the Divine presence on earth. In many Sephardic synagogues, a special wedding contract is read on Shavuot, sometimes between the Torah and Israel, sometimes between Israel and God (with the Torah as dowry), and sometimes between God and the Torah. This wedding contact heightens the drama of the day by making worshippers feel as if they are actually at a sacred wedding.
A powerful Shavuot ritual might include writing a wedding contract between Torah and Israel, or between God and Israel, as you understand that union. The contract would then be read in community on Shavuot. Let your imagination guide you. What do you think God or the Torah would promise Israel? What would Israel promise in return? Convening a group to invent this contract would be a great way to start a conversation about the meaning of revelation.
Here's a quote from a contact written by the sixteenth century mystical poet Israel Najjara to help get you started:
""The Bridegroom [God], Ruler of rulers, Prince of princes... said unto the pious, lovely and virtuous maiden [the people of Israel] who won His favor above all women, who is lovely as the moon, radiant as the sun, awesome as bannered hosts: Behold, I have sent you golden precepts through the lawgiver Jekuthiel [Moses]. Be My mate according to the law of Moses and Israel, and I will honor, support, and maintain you and be your shelter and refuge in everlasting mercy. And I will set aside for you... the life-giving Torah by which you and your children will live in health and serenity... This bride [Israel] consented and became His spouse. Thus an eternal covenant, binding them forever, was established between them."
Rabbi Jill Hammer is the founder of Tel Shemesh and the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical women.
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