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Jewish Holidays: Shavuot: The other festival

Overview
Cast of Characters
A Holiday With Five Names?
Customs & Practices
FAQ
Glossary of Terms


The Story

The Jews are in the desert, fresh off the heels of escaping Egypt. Moses has followed God's word and led them across the Red Sea and into the desert.

The Jews have been in the desert for more than six weeks. During this time the nation of Amalek attacks them. Moses instructs Joshua to gather an army to fight them off. Moses sits above the people, his staff by his side and his hands in the air. According to the text, when his hands are raised over the people, Israel prevails.

The Jews arrive at the brink of Mount Sinai. God tells Moses to give the people the following message: "You've seen what I did to Egypt…if you listen to my voice and keep my covenant, you'll be a treasure to me from among the nations; the whole world is mine. You shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:4-6). No pressure, of course.

The Jews meet the call, though, saying "All that God has commanded, we will do."

God gives Moses more instructions for the people. They should take the next two days to prepare themselves-wash their bodies, their clothes, and refrain from sexual relations. On the third day, God will descend upon Mount Sinai. They should not approach the mountain; whoever touches it will die, God says.

The third day comes. God descends upon the mountain with thunder and lightning. (You were expecting 70 and sunny?)

God himself-rather than Moses-hands down the original Top Ten List:

  1. I'm the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, for you Israelites who are really short of memory.
  2. Don't have any other Gods or make engraved images.
  3. Don't take the Lord's name in vain, G-d darn it.
  4. Keep the Sabbath, baby!
  5. Honor your father and mother, even when they ask you to clean up because the maid is coming.
  6. Don't even think about murdering.
  7. Same goes for stealing.
  8. Yep, same for adultery. I don't care what they do on Showtime.
  9. Don't bear false witness against your neighbor. Don't lie, either.
  10. Don't covet your neighbor's possessions, wife, servant, ox, or lawnmower. Especially his wife (See #8).


(Note: the exact text of the Ten Commandments can be found in Exodus 20:2-14.)

God then lays out a series of laws for Moses to convey to the people, essentially saying that to accept God and the Torah means to accept these obligations. Here's a sampling:

  • Bribery is bad.
  • Cover any pits you dig, so that no one "falls in and breaks their neck," as your mother might say.
  • Don't sleep with animals. 'Nuff said.

Moses relates the obligations to the people, and they respond that "We will do and we will listen," showing their acceptance first and their concern over what is demanded of them second. This remark would go down as one of the most famous in Jewish history, along with Krusty the Clown reciting the Hamotzi.

 
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