Shavuot begins at sundown Thursday. In my home, we follow the tradition of what is called a tikkun layl Shavuot (an all-night study party). We invite lots of friends over, no matter their pattern of practice or observance. We always have lots of good food—dairy foods are particularly popular on Shavuot since, according to one tradition, it predates the giving of the Torah and its dietary laws. So on Shavuot dairy is served just to be safe. Some suggest that it is in keeping with the text from the Song of Songs, attributed to King Solomon, which describes the Torah as “honey and milk are under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11). Still others think that just as a baby cannot immediately eat all kinds of foods and has to begin by nursing milk, we cannot take the entire Torah at once and have to slowly prepare ourselves for it. Milk products (like cheesecake! and blintzes) aren’t a bad way to prepare.
And then we study. We invite people to prepare whatever they want in whatever form they feel comfortable. In this regard Torah is not just the Five Books of Moses. It is the literary expression of the people and it comes in many forms. I like to study the Book of Ruth, which is traditionally read on Shavuot. Perhaps it is because Ruth cast her lot with the Jewish people without condition. And even more important from my perspective, she was accepted without condition. Not only did she raise Jewish children but her grandchild was King David, the forerunner of the Messianic line in Judaism.
There are other Shavuot traditions too. Flowers and first fruits. So our house is filled with the fragrance of both—and there is always at least one fruit that is new to the season and usually one that we have never tasted before. So we spend the night imbibing the sweet nectar of Torah all night long. Its hold on me—one that captivated me as an adolescent and has not let go—is hard to explain. All I know is that it elevates me heavenward in a way that no other experience in the calendar year is able to approximate. It is a lot like love. Can’t explain it. Can’t touch it. But I know it when I feel it or when I am its beneficiary.