“Are you going to stay in Jerusalem until the next holiday?”
“No, I have to get home to Capernaum. Can’t let my business slide for another two months. But I’ll be back, although it is an added expense. It seems the only times we get to see each other are the holidays.”
Perhaps conversations like that occurred every Passover. All Jewish men had to travel to Jerusalem for that holiday, and also had to be there for Shavuos (Pentecost) fifty days later. Maybe some could afford to stay for both holidays. Most probably had to make two trips out of it. And for what? Just to bring a couple of loaves of bread for the priest to wave. Well, also a sacrifice, but that was incidental.
Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the LORD. And ye shall offer with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be for a burnt offering unto the LORD, with their meat offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of sweet savour unto the LORD. Then ye shall sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits for a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the LORD for the priest. And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. (Lev 23:17-21)
A trip to Jerusalem just to offer two loaves of bread. Some might think it a waste of time. Sure, it was a holiday commemorating the giving of the Law. And yes, it was an offering of firstfruits, to show that God came first in the lives of every Jewish family. But couldn’t that have been done at home? Why go home and then travel all the way back to Jerusalem just short of two months later? The simple answer is that God said to. Maybe it was a test of faith. Maybe it was to emphasize the importance of the Law, or of reliance on God.
Unlike the other holidays, no special ceremony is designated, other than the sacrifice. Why not? Today it is common for the Jewish people to spend all night in Torah study, because this was the night on which the Law was given. The Torah is ceremony enough; there doesn’t need to be anything else. And yet, perhaps there is a special ceremony associated with Pentecost.
And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 17:22)
This verse seems out of place. In between discussions of holidays, the Jewish people are told to take care of the poor and the stranger. Maybe, though, it isn’t between discussions. Maybe this is the ceremony for Shavuos. God gave the bread of his word to the Jewish people; they are to give bread back to him, but also grain for bread to those in need.
We are surrounded by homeless, poor, and needy. There are many “strangers” among us, illegally or with permission. It is not our job to determine whom to help and whom to ignore. It is our job to leave some of what we produce for them, all of them, whether we think they deserve it or not. Whether they are in our country legally or not. Whether we can “afford it” or not. In fact, Shavuos says that since we are all dependent on God for everything that we have, we cannot afford not to help others. Even if it means traveling an extra couple of hundred miles once a year.
(Shavuos/Pentecost is June 4 in 2014.)