THE FESTIVAL OF SHAVUOTH
although a one-day festival, really began with the conclusion of the first day of Passover, some fifty days earlier. On that second day of the Passover festival, the new barley crop was first harvested and offered in the Holy Temple. On Shavuoth the wheat harvest was celebrated by the harvestng and bringing of the new wheat crop to the Holy Temple, where it was prepared and used in the baking of the two special Shavuoth loaves. Likewise, pilgrims brought the firstfruits from their own fields and orchards, of the seven fruits of the land of Israel mentioned in Deuteronomy: Figs, grapes, dates, pomegranates, olives, wheat and barley. Despite being at the height of the growing season, when the physical demands upon farmers was great, the pilgrims joyfully gathered their firstfruit offerings, and set out for Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
The festival of Shavuoth commemorates the receiving of Torah by the entire nation of Israel at Mount Sinai, fifty days after exiting Egypt.
Moses ascended Mount Sinai alone, where he would receive the Torah. But the opening commandments were heard by all the children of Israel, directly from the "mouth" of G-d.
When the Holy Temple stands in Jerusalem, Shavuoth takes on a different dimension that complements the commemoration of the receiving of Torah. The Day of the Firsfruits as it is also known, was marked largely by the offering of the season's firstfruits from all over the land of Israel, as a gesture of profound gratitude to the Holy One for all the abundance with which he has blessed His people - material, as well as spiritual.
"When a person goes down to his field and sees (for the first time) a ripe fig...
"When a person goes down to his field and sees (for the first time) a ripe fig or a ripe cluster of grapes..."
"When a person goes down to his field and sees (for the first time) a ripe fig or a ripe cluster of grapes, or a ripe pomegranate, he binds a reed-gress ribbon around it and says, 'These are the firstfruits...'" (Bikkurim 1:1)
In anticipation of the upcoming Shavuoth festival, families begin gathering the firstfruits that they had previously marked with the reed-grass ribbon.
Gathering together in the village of the local Assembly Head, who will lead them, the pilgrims sleep out of doors, (so as not to become ritually impure), before starting out in the morning for Jerusalem.
Laden with firstfruits, both man and beast make their way to Jerusalem - and the Holy Temple.
After a journey as long as several days, (or even weeks), the pilgrims finally arrive within sight of Jerusalem.
The horns of an ox being brought as an offering were adorned with gold plating. Latecomers would adorn the horns of their animal offerings with silver.
Pilgrims carried first-fruit baskets upon their heads.
Twenty six animals were offered upon the Temple altar on the festival of Shavuoth. These included doves, lambs, and oxen.
Fathers would bring their children with them to the Holy Temple, thus fulfilling the biblical commandment: "Let each of your males be seen..." (Deut. 16:16)
Special seven tiered baskets were employed to display the first-fruits. The fruits were arranged in ascending order of importance: the bottom basket contained barley. This was followed by wheat, olives, dates, pomegranates,and figs. A dove was set on the top.
Bringing their first-fruits into the Temple courtyard, the pilgrims would express their thanks to G-d - the source of all blessing.
"An Aramean destroyed my father..." (Deut, 26:5) Thus declared the pilgrim, standing before the priest, while holding his basket of firstfruits upon his shoulder.
The pilgrim would then place his basket by the altar, as it is written: "And you shall place it before the L-rd, your G-d." (Deut. 26:11).
The priest would then take the basket and wave it as prescribed.
Before leaving the Temple Courtyard, the pilgrim would prostrate himself before G-d.
Two loaves of leavened bread were offered on Shavuoth, as a communal offering. The unground wheat was first rubbed by the priests...
The grain was then beaten by hand.
The wheat was then ground into very fine flour, which was sifted and sieved twelve times. Two-tenths of an ephah were produced, one-tenth for each loaf.
The two loaves were kneaded and baked separately. They were rectangular in shape, measuring seven handbreadths long and four wide. The loaves were fashioned so that there would be a hornlike protrusion on each of the four corners.
The priests would carry the two loaves and the other offerings up to the altar. They woukld be accompanied by Levites blasting trumpets and playing flutes.
The waving of the twin loaves and the (living) sheep whould then commence. The priest would stand on the eastern side of the altar to perform the ceremony.
The priest would again wave the offering, after the lamb had be slaughtered.
The priests would then gather in the Chamber of the Hearth, to eat from the two Shavuoth loaves and the peace offerings. These offerings could only be eaten by the priests. This concluded the divine service unique to the festival of Shavuoth.
This picture depicts King Agrippa standing in the Hulda Gate tunnel, as described in the Mishna Bikkurim. The king's firstfruit basket is made of gold. It was common for pilgrims of means to bring their firstfruits in baskets of gold or silver, as a way of beautifying the mitzva, (hiddur mitzva). Others, of more limited means, would bring their firstfruits in baskets of straw. Yet all would carry their baskets upon their shoulders and enter together through the same gates. Shavuoth, as well as the other festivals would bring the people together in a spirit of brotherhood and unity.
The festival of Shavuoth brings together the celebration and gratitude for both our spiritual and material inheritances - the Torah of Israel, and the Land of Israel.