Shavuot starts at sundown on Thursday 25 May. It commemorates the date when Hashem gave the Torah and the ten commandments to Moses and the Israelite nation at Mount Sinai after they left Egypt 3,300 years ago. Shavuot is the culmination and eager anticipation of the counting of seven weeks (known as the counting of the Omer) which starts from Pesach. Every year we renew our acceptance of Hashem’s gift as He “re-gives” us the Torah on Shavuot.
Shavuot is known as the spiritual liberation of the Jewish people. On Pesach, the Israelites were liberated from Egyptian slavery and on Shavuot, they were given the Torah where they committed themselves to serving Hashem. Whilst Pesach marks our liberation from slavery, Shavuot marks the renewal of our commitment and dedication to Hashem. The giving of the Torah was a spiritual event that touched the essence of the Jewish soul. Our sages have compared it to a wedding between Hashem and the Jewish people. After accepting the commandments at Sinai, the Israelites became Hashem’s chosen people and they had chosen Hashem in return. This is why Shavuot also means “oaths” as Hashem swore eternal devotion to us and we in turn pledged everlasting loyalty to Him. This is so appropriate as The Women’s International Zionist Organisation (WIZO) pledges to continue to do what matters for those who need it the most! No child or woman is turned away as WIZO gives them the steppingstones to build up their confidence and once again become upstanding citizens of Israeli society.
According to Jewish custom, no work is permitted on Shavuot, however the work at our Women’s International Zionist Organisation (WIZO), the largest social welfare organisation in Israel, never stops. In fact and in truth it CANNOT stop. There are always children, teenagers and women who are at risk and their welfare must be taken care of no matter what. Consequently, WIZO runs three emergency centres for the urgent care of high-risk children, two centres for girls severely at risk and two safe homes for the treatment and rehabilitation of girls at-risk. These places of safety are always open and always operational, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year! Our work must go on and our giving with love must continue for the sake of all women and children and our beloved land of Israel.
According to the Midrash (ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures), Mount Sinai suddenly blossomed with flowers and greenery in honour of the giving of the Torah. Today, many Jewish families decorate their homes with sweet smelling plants and flowers to honour Shavuot. We also celebrate Shavuot by eating festive dairy feasts. One explanation of why we do this is that the Torah is compared to milk and honey and dairy foods symbolise the sweetness and richness of the Torah.
As you decorate your homes or synagogue for this holiday and eat delicious dairy foods like cheesecake and blintzes, remember those at WIZO who need your help. Remember that giving of your time to volunteer or making a donation will go a long way to help those vulnerable women and children get the help that they need to become respectable and upright happy citizens as WIZO strives to close the gaps in Israeli society.
WIZO South Africa joins me in wishing you and your families a Chag Shavuot Sameach.
President, WIZO South Africa