Today is Erev Shavuot, the evening before the start of Shavuot (The Festival of Weeks); a holiday that marks the end of the counting of the Omer, the giving of the Torah to the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai, the start of the grain harvest, and the first day that the first fruits (bikkurim) could be brought to the temple. (N.B. the seven species of Israel include: grapes, dates, figs, wheat, pomegranates, olives, and barley).
For bikkurim, farmers would tie a golden thread or other marker around the first fruits of the seven species. These fruits would be picked, placed in decorated silver and gold baskets, and carried to the temple in a procession of oxen whose horns were gold gilden and adorned with garlands of colorful and fragrant flowers.
In the diaspora (of which Whidbey Island certainly qualifies), Shavuot is also marked by:
-All night Torah study or Tikkun Leil Shavuot, (“Rectification for Shavuot Night”), a collection of excerpts from the beginning and end of of the 24 books that comprise the Tanakh.
-The eating of dairy rich foods. There are a myriad of reasons for the custom of dairy dishes on Shavuot that include King Solomon’s comments that the Torah was “like milk and honey”, the introduction of kosher laws, and a Zohar connection between the 365 days of the year and the 365 negative commandments in the Torah focusing on the one that forbids boiling a kid in its mother’s milk.
-Decorating ones home with greenery, recalling the Midrash tale that Mt. Sinai suddenly blossomed in flowers with the anticipation of the gift of the Torah. Some communities (generally Sephardi) decorate the bimah like a chuppah and read a kettubah, linking the giving of the Torah and the covenant of the nation of Israel to a marriage contract.
-Reading the book of Ruth.
-Wearing white clothing.
More information on Shavuot can be found at the following sources:
“Funding for Whidbey Island Jewish Community was made possible, in part, by a grant from the Special Initiatives Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.”