Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
Living in the modern era, we may forget or underestimate the significance of this holiday, so it is necessary to learn and teach future generations about God’s appointed times and what they mean to our lives here and now.
In Hebrew the word Shavuot means “weeks”, it is called so, because we celebrate it after counting seven weeks from the first day of Passover:
“Count off seven weeks… Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God.” — Deuteronomy 16:9,10
In the Torah this holiday is also called “the day of firstfruits”, as it appears in Numbers 28:26 and “the Festival of the Harvest” as it is called in Exodus 23:16.
According to the tradition, on this day we received the Torah from Mount Sinai, therefore most of its customs are related to the giving and learning of the Torah, including studying the Bible throughout the night, eating dairy products, and reading the Book of Ruth.
It is also a Messianic holiday, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah and the giving of the Holy Spirit, as described in Acts chapter 2:
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place […and then…] All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” — Acts 2:1,4
Shavuot is also seen as the marriage between God and the nation of Israel. It took place at Mount Sinai, with Torah being its “Ketubah”, that seals our relationship with God. A “Ketubah” is a marriage contract or a deed between a husband and his wife.
This image of a wedding between God to His people is the background for all the New Testament descriptions of the Messiah and His bride: the congregation and the body of Messiah. It is the background for many parables of Yeshua that are based on the wedding image.
Yeshua uses an existing image: Israel as a bride of God. This concept is known already from the prophets, as an example, I will quote the prophet Jeremiah:
“This is what the Lord says: ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown.’” — Jeremiah 2:2
The children of Israel followed God to the honeymoon in the wilderness. For 40 years they lacked nothing, living in God’s presence daily. For 40 years their clothes and shoes did not wear out. For 40 years they walked in the light of the pillar of fire and were enveloped in the cloud of God.
Every day He gave them food to eat and water to drink from His open hand. Every day in the desert was a great and clear miracle.
They saw the descent of God’s glory on Mount Sinai and the descent of God’s glory upon the Tabernacle that they built for Him in the wilderness. God accepted the people’s gift and came to dwell among them.
Therefore, the time of desert wandering is traditionally seen as the honeymoon between God and His bride — Israel.
This is the background to many of Yeshua’s parables, like the parable of the 10 bridesmaids from Matthew 25, where Yeshua tells us that half of the bridesmaids came ready for the wedding, while another half came unprepared.
In this parable Yeshua teaches us to be ready for the coming of the bridegroom.
And who is the bridegroom? Yeshua the Messiah, of course.
Another parable that uses the wedding allegory, is the parable of the wedding banquet. It is one of Yeshua’s longest parables, and it compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who marries his son, as it is written:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” — Matthew 22:1-14
However, Shavuot is not just a “Torah-giving holiday”, and not just a symbol of a wedding. It is also, and especially, the “festival of firstfruits”.
We practice our faith by mainly expressing the idea of receiving the Torah, as we read and study the Word of God every day. Every week we sit and listen to a biblical teaching in our congregation or church.
On the other hand, the second aspect, the first-fruit offering, remains unfulfilled, with nearly no way to be practiced today. The commandment of the pilgrimage no longer exists, since there is no Temple in Jerusalem today.
In our days the practical aspects of the firstfruits offering do not exist or are irrelevant. We do not live in farming communities and nobody presents his firstfruits before God anymore.
Therefore today, it is necessary to give Shavuot a Messianic interpretation. We all have skills, gifts, and abilities, and it is our duty to contribute our part and to give our firstfruits to the body of Messiah and to the local church.
The reason for the firstfruits offering was to thank God for the good He has given us, to thank God for His grace, and we can continue doing it today. We can give God our firstfruits, our talents, our income, our time, and our effort.
Throughout the scriptures, Yeshua compares us to fruit trees, and as such, He demands from us that our lives produce fruit.
God has blessed us with many talents. In the New Testament we find several lists of gifts, talents, and skills. It can be an ability to help, to do physical work, or a spiritual gift.
Every person has a role, every person has a gift. Therefore, every believer should have a role in the congregation. We all must do our part for the congregation or the church.
In this spirit I read the parable of Yeshua about the bags of gold, that appears in Matthew chapter 25. God entrusted us all with different gifts, each of us received a quantity of gold from above. One received 20, others received 10, 5, or 3.
In this parable of Yeshua, before going on a journey, a rich man deposited his fortune in the hands of his three servants. Upon his return, the master discovered that two of his servants were responsible and loyal. However, unlike the first two, the third servant chose to remain passive. He told his employer:
“I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So. I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.” — Matthew 25:24
In my understanding, the third servant is the one who did not use his gift. He buried his abilities and his talents in the ground, and did he not bless with them his surroundings.
The difficult part of this parable is, without a doubt, the claim of the lazy servant, who did not do enough with the skills, talents, and gifts that God has given him. He claims: “I knew that you are a hard man”, and Yeshua explains to us what he means: “harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed”.
Does God harvest where He has not sown and gather where He has not scattered? The answer is – yes, absolutely!
Shavuot, the feast of harvest, is exactly about that. God requires from us the firstfruits of our labor. We are forbidden to eat fruit from our trees till the fifth year, as it is written:
“For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord… [For three years we are forbidden to eat fruit of the tree we have planted, the fruit of the fourth year is holy and belongs to God, and only…] in the fifth year you may eat its fruit.” — Leviticus 19:23-25
This idea is not limited to fruit trees alone. The Word of God commands us to leave the edges of our field and the edges of our vineyards for the poor, the needy, and the stranger. Meaning that others will come in to my private property to pick and gather from my field, from my harvest.
This is the story of Ruth. She came to a field not hers, to a field she did not work on, where she did not sow, to the field of Boaz, and there she started to glean during the harvest.
And who are those poor, unfortunate and sick? Who are those, enjoying the work of others? Yeshua tells us about these people as well:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you. […And why is that?…] For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in […and we want to serve God. How do we serve him? How can we recognize Him? Yeshua answers…] Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” — Mathew 25:24-40
So, when a poor man enters my private field picking up my harvest and my grain, it is the fulfillment of Yeshua’s words: “Harvest where you have not sown and gather where you have not scattered.” Our giving is not to the poor, Yeshua says, but as if we had done it to the Lord himself!
How do we see the congregation? Do we imagine our congregation as the place where we arrive, sit a little, sing a little, pray a little, listen a little to the sermon, and then go home – is that it?
I did my duty as a believer; God is happy with me because I went to the house of God.
The important question that the Scriptures and Yeshua ask us is: Where is the fruit? Where is the use of the gifts that God has entrusted to us?
We are God’s workers, and we are obligated to build the body of Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven. Each of us has talents and gifts, and we must use them in order to build the congregation!
Part of the firstfruits commandment is to rejoice, sincerely, for the right and the ability to do good, to help and to serve others.
It is worth remembering once a year the fruit we produced, and to present it before God. To give God an account — what have I done for the Kingdom of Heaven this year?
It is customary on Shavuot to learn from the book of Ruth. Ruth bursts into a fossilized and frozen world like a refreshing spirit. She bursts into it with her generosity. She gives and she does above and beyond her family responsibilities.
For Naomi’s sake, Ruth accompanies her back to the land of Judah in her time of trouble. When they returned to Bethlehem with nothing, she supports Naomi, she goes to glean and collect alms in the fields of Bethlehem. She acts in complete obedience and trust to Naomi.
And this example of Ruth affects Boaz, takes him out of the frozen stage he is in, awakens him to true acts of kindness.
Our faith requires us to act like Ruth, above and beyond our mere obligations, to act with mercy, self-sacrifice, care, and kindness.
Shavuot is the time to present our firstfruits before God, to offer them in holiness to the Lord and the congregation.
Happy Shavuot to all of you!
This video and transcript originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.