What’s In a Name? (Shavuot)
Shakespeare would claim that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Does the same hold true for names in Hebrew?
In Kabbalah (mysticism), the letters of a name spell out a spiritual map leading to identity and meaning. What are the different names and meanings of Shavuot and of each of us?
This resource is part of our What’s in a Name? series.
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
Like many young people, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet meet at a party and they hit it off. All is going well, until they learn each other’s names and realize they can not be together due to a long-lasting family feud.
1. If you change the name of something, would everything else about it stay the same?
2. What do you think Judaism would say about this?
Judaism begs to differ with Shakespeare! Changing the name of someone or something would change the intrinsic nature of who or what they are. Indeed, often people, things, and even holidays have multiple names, as each name is key to understanding the essence of the person, holiday, etc.
Shavuot is a strange name for a holiday. This holiday actually has five names (three are biblical), and each of which shed light on another aspect of its ‘personality’.
The most commonly used name for the holiday is Shavuot (שבועות, “weeks”). This name is a reference to the days and weeks we have been keeping track while counting the omer. On the second night of Pesach, we start Sefirat Ha’Omer, the counting of the omer (a measure of barley) for seven weeks, or 49 days. Shavuot falls on what would be the 50th day.
The name Shavuot, therefore, is a link in the chain of the Jewish calendar, connecting Pesach to Shavuot, and building the excitement (we count up towards Shavuot, not down from Pesach) to this upcoming chag.
וְחַג שָׁבֻעֹת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ בִּכּוּרֵי קְצִיר חִטִּים וְחַג הָאָסִיף תְּקוּפַת הַשָּׁנָה׃
You shall observe the Holiday of Weeks, of the first fruits of the wheat harvest; and the Holiday of Ingathering at the turn of the year:
Another name that is a great juxtaposition to Shavuot, is Atzeret (“conclusion”). This refers, which is referring to the end and closing of the period of the Counting of the Omer. This name is used in the Mishnah (oral law) and Gemara .(commentary on the Mishnah).
Fitting with this idea of the omer once more, is the name Chag HaKatzir (“The Harvest Festival”). In biblical times, Shavuot, like most holidays, was an agricultural one. On Shavuot, the first crop of the wheat harvest was brought to the Temple and baked into loaves of bread.
… וְחַג הַקָּצִיר בִּכּוּרֵי מַעֲשֶׂיךָ אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע בַּשָּׂדֶה
And the Harvest Festival, of the first fruits of your work, or what you sow in the field…
This connection to Megillat Ruth (“The Scroll of Ruth”) is the reason it is read on Shavuot. It talks of the wheat harvest, and how Ruth was able to do leket (“glean”) from the field of Boaz during this time of year.
For further insight on leket (“gleaning”), explore Leket: Then and Now
This holiday is also known as Chag HaBikurim (“The Festival of the First Fruits”).
וּבְיוֹם הַבִּכּוּרִים בְּהַקְרִיבְכֶם מִנְחָה חֲדָשָׁה לַה’ בְּשָׁבֻעֹתֵיכֶם מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כָּל־מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ׃
On the Day of the First Fruits, your Holiday of Weeks, when you bring an offering of new grain to the Lo-rd, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupation:.
Shavuot as one of the Shalosh Regalim (“Three Pilgrimage Holidays”) would be a time where Jews from all over Israel would gather at the Temple in Jerusalem and offer the first fruits of their harvest. The Bikkurim, or First Fruits, were of the seven species of the Land of Israel; wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive (oil), and date (honey).
Lastly, and yet perhaps the most well- known link today, Shavuot is also called Zman Matan Torateinu (“The Time of the Giving of our Torah”). This name is used in prayers such as Kiddush (the blessing over the wine) and the Amidah (silent, standing prayer). It is this connection to Shavuot that is the main reason for a Tikkun Leil Shavuot (an all-night learning session on the first night of Shavuot). Tradition has it that B’nei Yisrael (“The Children of Israel”) overslept when they were meant to receive the Torah! As a tikkun (reparation) of this act, there is the tradition of staying up all night learning, so that we are ready for receiving the Torah all over again. The receiving of the Torah is also a main reason for the tradition of eating dairy on Shavuot; we had not yet received the Torah, so we didn’t yet know about how to prepare meat according to the laws of Kashrut.
1. Which of these names for Shavuot do you most use and why?
2. Which of these names do you most relate to in terms of what this holiday is for you?
1. What is the difference between these three types of names?
2. What are your names for each of these three categories?
3. Which of these three names do you think is the most important and why?