Shavuot (a.k.a. the Feast of Weeks, or “Pentecost”) is the only Jewish holiday that has no fixed day in a calendar – it is always the 50th day from the beginning of counting of the Omer—Sefirot HaOmer. What is so special about the number and what is its connection to Shavuot?

Shavuot is not only the culmination of the counting of the sefirah, but it is a culmination of the process of maturation of our consciousness.

On Shavuot, it is customary to read the Book of Ruth (Megilat Rut). The story begins with Lot and his daughters running away from Sodom and hiding in a mountain cave. Seeing the destruction of Sodom, the daughters of Lot suspected that God in his fury destroyed the whole of humanity and they were the only people left on Earth. Wishing to ensure the continuity of human race, the daughters conspired to have relations with their father and conceive from him. To this end, they got their father inebriated and laid with him while he was oblivious to what was going on. Lot was drunk and sound asleep unaware of the act. When the older daughter conceived and gave birth to a son, she called him

 

Wishing to ensure the continuity of human race, the daughters conspired to have relations with their father and conceive from him. To this end, they got their father inebriated and laid with him while he was oblivious to what was going on. Lot was drunk and sound asleep unaware of the act. When the older daughter conceived and gave birth to a son, she called him Moav (lit. from father). As Lot was oblivious of this incestuous union, his consciousness was at its lowest level.

Lot_and_his_Daughters

Guido Reni. Lot and his Daughters. c 1615

The soul of Lot was reincarnated into Judah, a son of Jacob. Judah also had improper intimate relations with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, whom he mistook for a harlot. Tamar, seeing that the youngest son of Judah grew up but was not given to her in a levirate marriage, dressed up as a harlot to lure in unsuspecting Judah. While Judah was aware of the fact, he was unaware with whom he was intimate. This is symbolic of the next level of consciousness—awake but unaware.

Judah_and_Tamar

Judah and Tamar by Ferdinand Bol, 1653

The story ends with the righteous Ruth, a Moabite princess, a descendant of Moab (Moav) and Lot, who ultimately marries Boaz (a descendant and a reincarnation of Judah) and gives birth to Perez beginning the Jewish royal dynasty of David. In this instance, however, Boaz was fully aware.

Ruth and Naomi in Bible Paintings: Ruth and Boaz Meet, Marc Chagall, Bible Art Gallery: paintings from the Old and New Testaments

                               ‘Ruth and Boaz meet’, Marc Chagall, 1960

In all three episodes, women orchestrated a relationship that was either improper or, at least, had an appearance of impropriety, while the men involved were blissfully unaware, or aware but clueless of what was going on. Only at the end, when Boaz marries Ruth, he is both awake and aware of the relationship. These three episodes are connected, as they represent the first stages of the unfolding of Davidic royal dynasty ultimately leading to the Mashiach (Messiah). The three episodes also symbolize the stages of maturation of consciousness from being asleep and unaware to being awake and unaware to finally being awake and aware. It is this level of consciousness that is required for receiving the Torah.

These three levels of consciousness can be compared with the three ordinary states of matter – solid, liquid, and gaseous. For example, water can be solid when it is ice, normally it is liquid and, when molecules of water break free and evaporate, they become vapor (gas). The consciousness of Lot was frozen solid like a block of ice, which is why he was asleep and unaware. The consciousness of Judah became more fluid, which is why he was awake, albeit still unaware. Boaz’s consciousness finally breaks free and soars like vapor, achieving the highest level, which is why he was both awake and aware.

We read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot not only because Ruth was a grandmother of King David who’s yortzait (anniversary of passing) is on Shavu’ot, but because we want to tap into this highest level of consciousness symbolized by the relationship between Ruth and Boaz to open our minds to receive the Torah.

This is also why the Shavuot always falls on the 50th day. The number 50 represent the highest level of wisdom—Nun Shaarei Binah—50 Gates of Wisdom. The 50th gate is unachievable to us, only Moses merited receiving this highest level. We can only reach 49 levels through our own efforts (which is what we are meant to do during the 49 days of counting of the Sefirah—Sefirot HaOmer), but the 50th level can only be granted by God as a gift.

May God open our minds and expand our conscience so that we can merit receive the Torah on Shavuot b’simchah (with Joy) ub’pnimiut (and internalize it)!

Hag Same’ach!

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