Shavuot – Feast of Pentecost
May 22nd, 2007 by Sonja

A very long time ago, in what seems as though it must have been another lifetime, I taught a womans Adult Christian Education Class at our CLB1. I taught on the books of Ruth and Esther. I began my planning with a reading of the stories in the Bible, but quickly knew that I needed some supporting material. I got some light reading (Lucado, Wiersbe, etc.) on my own, but asked our youth pastor/friend/mentor for some recommendations. He gave me the hard stuff. The Word Biblical Commentary, volume 9 by Frederic W. Bush. Whew … that’ll make your hair curl.

Thus began my first encounter with Biblical Hebrew. I skipped over a lot of it. At first. But then I began stumbling through the parts that dealt with the verbs and the tenses … and it seemed unintelligible. And I hated it. It was a discipline. But slowly it began to make a certain amount of sense to me. And I began to understand the book of Ruth at a whole other level that had never been available to me before. This was a story that I have always loved. It is a beautiful romance tucked in the midst of ashes and but now it has been cut and polished for me like a raw jewel.

As I fought my way through studying and presenting this material to my class, I grew to love Ruth even more. I also learned quite a bit about some of the traditions that have grown up around the story in the intervening several thousand years since it happened. I learned that the megillah (or scroll) of Ruth is read during the Feast of Pentecost or First Fruits. This is the Feast which celebrates the harvest and which celebrates the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai to the Hebrews. It is the feast which commemorates God making a commitment to live in community with His people forever.

So, why, might you ask, is this book about a foreign girl coming to Israel read during this feast? Well … the answer lies in many places. The first lies in Ruth’s declaration to Naomi early on in the story, “Where ever you go, I will go. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God Your land will be my land.” She gives up everything about herself, to become a nobody in a strange land and take care of her mother-in-law. It is a gorgeous picture of love in the face of adversity. It is also a foreshadowing of who Jesus is and who He calls us to be and it sets up the story to present to us the concept of chesed.

Chesed is a Hebrew word for which there is no precise English translation. The best we can come up with is covenental loyalty in the context of merciful lovingkindness … which is, to say … a mouthful! It is an aspect of God for which we do not have a very good lens. But we do have the book of Ruth, which is replete with pictures of what chesed looks and acts like. Chesed is found in Ruth’s declaration to Naomi in Ruth 1:15-16; then when Ruth follows through on that declaration we see chesed in action. Chesed is found in Boaz’s loving care and commitment to Ruth and Naomi throughout the harvest season and in the fact that he would chose Ruth (a Moabite) and work to marry her, when he might have passed her off on to another relative or ignored her altogether.

So, indeed this is a fitting story to tell on the anniversary each year that we celebrate the giving of the Ten Commandments. It is about more than the Commandments. It’s about God and His desire to live in community with us. He limited himself, and gave of himself in order to hang with us.

Here is the cool thing about Shavuot. The Jewish community celebrates this as a commemoration of the giving of the covenant; the beginning of their relationship with God. The Christian community also celebrates Pentecost and we both use the same name. We celebrate this day as a commemoration of the giving of the new covenant; the Holy Spirit. On Sinai we were given the Law, but after the crucifixion and resurrection, on the same day we were given the Holy Spirit to continue our redemptive, covenental, merciful relationship with God.

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost

1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Shavuot begins this evening at sunset. It is these moments which cause me to reflect that our separate religions might just be a human construct and not divine. It brings to mind the Eastern Orthodox tenet that I can only know where I might find God, I do not know where S/He is not. So, whether you are Jewish or Christian, I pray you spend the next day or so reveling in a God who ripped the seams of time to be with us. Here are some thoughts that are pertinent to Pentecost from other bloggers.

First … read about moving from desolation to consolation at emerging sideways. It is a wonderful picture of redemption and provision like the story of Ruth, or the Hebrews. Desolation and consolation.

Second … read the story of Ruth again here at Velveteen Rabbi with a little bit of commentary. Beautiful.

Last … here is a poem from Rachel Barenblatt at Velveteen Rabbi to prepare you for Shavuot … it’s really quite lovely:


I’m thirsty for davening
in this gritty desert
of car wrecks and cell phones.
Every person killed
keeps the promised land
blocked to our passage.

Who knows the path
to short-circuit
this wandering?
Some days manna falls
but others we’re back
to toil, scratching
like chickens in the dirt.

If I was there at Sinai
to sign the ketubah
God offered, black fire
on white, most days
I don’t remember.
Everyone forgets the unity
we started with.

This year
when our anniversary comes,
God, I want to stay up
all night
to feel the letters
traveling up my hands
into my heart.

I want to sing holy at dawn
with the birds
in the willow behind shul
who open and close each day
with praise.

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