In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the Jewish holidays throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.

Yves Perriard: From Passover to Pentecost – A Journey of Faith! [Shavuot 2024]

Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yves Perriard.

In a few days we will have a wonderful celebration called Shavuot!
So let me ask you: What comes to your mind when you think of the biblical feast of Shavuot?

Decorating your house and the synagogue with flowers? All kinds of delicious dairy products like blintzes? The competition of who is going to make the best cheesecakes? Or on a more serious tone, the giving of the Torah at Mont Sinai? And therefore the studying of the Torah the whole night? The reading of the book of Ruth, since this non-Jewish woman entered into the covenant of the Torah?

You see the rabbis believe that since the Torah was given on Mont Sinai 50 days after the Israelites went out of Egypt, and since Shavuot is happening 50 days after Passover, then logically we should celebrate the giving of the Torah at Shavuot. This a very tempting and brilliant conclusion to make. The only problem with this interpretation is that the Bible never makes this connection. It does not give us a single commandment that at Shavuot we should remember what happened on Mont Sinai. So could it be that the Bible has something else to show us ?

Let me bring you the big picture. The journey to Shavuot actually begins at Passover, which is celebrated on the 15th of Nisan, that is around March or April. This festival commemorates the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt and is observed with a special meal called the Seder, filled with symbolic foods and the retelling of the Exodus story.

Now, on the second day of Passover, the 16th of Nisan, OR a few days later, depending on how certain religious groups interpret the biblical text, the Counting of the Omer begins. This is period of seven weeks or 49 days, during which the Jews count each day with a blessing. For many this is a serious spiritual preparation and an anticipation for the feast of Shavuot which starts on the 50th day.

This is the reason why Shavuot is called Shavuot, because in Hebrew it means weeks, and in Greek it is called pentecoste, which means 50th because Shavuot starts on the fiftieth day. As we shall see later, Shavuot and Pentecost happen exactly on the same day, but they just have different names and meanings. Shavuot is the Jewish festival and Pentecost is the Christian celebration.

In biblical times, when this counting of the Omer was finished, all the Israelites would go up to Jerusalem in a ceremonial procession with music and great joy. As they arrived to the temple, they sacrificed animals and brough two loaves of leavened bread made from the very first wheat of their harvest. One was given to the priest and the other one was waved before the altar so that it would be accepted by the Lord. Then they offered the first fruits of their harvest, including wheat and barley, and if that was available, they carried as well baskets of grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. By bringing the beginning and the best of the produce of the land, which is why it was called first fruits, Israelites showed their thankfulness and their dependence towards the God who had blessed them. In other words, they had a mini thanksgiving celebration.

But they did something more than saying thank you. They did something far more significant, which I believe is the heart and the spirit of Shavuot:

As they brought their first fruits, they made before God a declaration of faith.

Look with me in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 26, verse 5 to 9:

“Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.”

In essence, what did the Israelites say ?

Bad news: In Egypt when we arrived we were nobodies.

Good news: Eventually we grew and became a powerful and great nation.

Bad news: The Egyptians oppressed us.

Good news: God delivered us with amazing miracles and gave us a land that flows with milk and honey.

So what did the Israelites declare both to God and to themselves?

Every bad news always ends up with a good news!

However bad things get, God always turns things around in our favor!

Every year at Shavuot every Jew repeated this amazing declaration of faith that God wants us to be a miraculous, great, powerful and prosperous nation!

In the year 33 of our era, not a single Jew felt this way. For more than 100 years the Romans had cruelly oppressed them. They imposed heavy taxations, religious restrictions, most of them could barely survive economically and Rome brutally repressed every desire of freedom. They were far from this mighty, miraculous land where milk and honey flowed!

So when Jesus told his disciples, after teaching them for 40 days about the kingdom of God, that in a few days they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit, what did they understand?

They made a direct connection with Shavuot! Finally God had seen the longing of their heart! Their master would come in a triumphal procession to Jerusalem, liberate their nation from their oppressors and restore the kingdom of David!

We see exactly this in verse 6 of the first chapter of Acts:

“Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time, which time? Shavuot! Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?””

But Jesus said to them:

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.””

In other words Jesus said that the timing for the full restoration of Israel had not come yet, but something amazing was about to happen; they would receive a power that would change the world. In the midst of their most horrible situation, they would become the very nation that God had always dreamt of.

The nation that would bring the Torah to the whole world, the nation that would bring millions of Ruths into their fold, the nation that would bring the light of the Messiah and make many other nations great and prosperous!

You read this in Acts, and you can see that indeed thousands upon thousands of Jews experienced what the message of Shavuot is all about:

God answers the prayers! Every bad news always ends up with a good news!

However bad things get, God will turn things around in your favor!

Happy Shavuot!

Yehuda Bachana: God and His Bride [2024]

Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.

Shavuot is one of the three major biblical holidays, which require a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. These are Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.

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.

Joseph Shulam: Honoring the Giving of Torah and Celebrating Bountiful Harvest [2023]

The Feast of Shavuot has more than one reason for the celebration. The meaning that is mostly stressed is the feast of the first fruit that was brought by the farmers to Jerusalem and dedicated to the Lord. The second significance of Shavuot is the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai, 50 days after leaving Egypt. Shavuot is the only biblical feast that doesn’t have a calendar date, but is just the countdown of 50 days from Passover to Shavuot. That amounts to seven weeks, or 49 days + 1 day = making Shavuot the 50th day. Shavuot means 'weeks' in Hebrew, and Pentecost in Greek means fifty.

The reading this Shabbat after Shavuot, is from the Torah portion Nasso (Numbers 4:21-7:89). From the prophets, the haftarah, we read the story of Samson from Judges 13:2-25. From the New Testament the reading is from Acts 21:17-26. These readings have unique and special lessons that are important to be understood for our own inspiration and encouragement.

Let us start with the Torah portion Nasso from Number 4:21-7:89. The first part of our reading is about the distribution of tasks in the transportation of the Tabernacle, for each of the LEVITICAL families. Each LEVITICAL family had their specific portion of the work, a calling, a Mishmeret, a duty. This principle is transposed into the New Testament by the Apostle Paul:

“Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.” (1 Corinthians 7:20 NKJV)

“The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,” (Ephesians 1:18 NKJV)

“Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power…” (2 Thessalonians 1:11 NKJV)

“Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,” (2 Timothy 1:9 NKJV)

This concept that each one, each believer and each member of those who are called out, the EKKLESIA, are part of a team, a community. This spiritual family carries on the work of the Kingdom, and has a specific task in the general structure of the Holy Community. The point being that there is no room for competition between those who carry the Ark of the Covenant, and those who carry the tent and its cover. Nothing will work if everyone starts being jealous, saying: “Why should I carry the Acacia wood beams of the Tabernacle, while you get to carry the Ark of the Covenant?” Another will say, “Why should I carry the Ark of the Covenant, and have this heavy responsibility, while all you folks have to carry is the cooking utensils and the spices for the incense and the oil for the lamp?"

Now, I would like to jump to the reading from the Haftarah (from the prophets) in Judges 13:2-25. This is the setting and background for the story of Samson. The connection with the Torah portion is the qualifications for the Nazir (the Nazarite). What is a Nazarite? This is not a simple question to answer, because of the very definition that is found in our Torah text of this Shabbat. Here is the text from our Torah portion for this Shabbat:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD, he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin. 'All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body. He shall not make himself unclean even for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he shall be holy to the LORD.” (Numbers 6:1-8 NKJV)

First let me state clearly what a Nazir is not! A Nazir, is not a priest and he doesn’t have to be from the tribe of Levi. A Nazir doesn’t serve in the Tabernacle nor in the Temple. A Nazir doesn’t offer sacrifices on the holy altar in the Temple. The Nazir himself is the sacrifice: a person that is separated by God from the community, and commanded to have a special life with extra restrictions and limitations (that a normal priest from the Tribe of Levi doesn’t have). A Nazir is to abstain from drinking wine or even grape juice or vinegar made from wine.

In fact the Nazir is not even allowed to eat the grapes themselves. He is not supposed to have a haircut. His hair is to grow naturally without ever having a haircut. A Nazir, like a priest from the Tribe of Levi, is not even allowed to go to the cemetery when his father, mother or brother dies. He has to be, and remain, ceremonially clean. Essentially a Nazir has to be holy to the Lord and fully dedicated to the Lord. So, what does a Nazir actually do?

The person, male or female, who is a Nazirite is in effect dedicated to be a FULLTIME intercessor. He or she is especially appointed, either by his or her individual choice, by the family or by God Himself through an angle like in the case of Samson! As I said above, a Nazir is a living sacrifice to God. The only two people in the Bible that I remember to be Nazirites are Samson and Samuel the prophet.

In the case of Samuel, his mother Hannah dedicated him to God before his birth. She took a vow to deliver him in the house of God in Shilo after he was weaned. Similarly, Samson was announced to be a Nazirite before his birth, by a divine figure. An angel of the Lord met his mother in the field and announced about her pregnancy, adding that her son will be a Nazirite.

The story of Samson in the book of Judges is the source of several Hollywood movies made in the middle of the 20th Century. The one that was most impressive for me was Samson and Delilah, with Angela Lansbury and Victor Mature. I had the good pleasure to meet Victor Mature when he was really old and while he was riding a golf cart in a restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe, California.

We had a great conversation on the Bible, and especially on Samson, the movie and the story. Mr. Victor Mature said to me that his playing Samson in the movie also changed his own life. He said that that story gave him some lessons for life.

“I learned that a person can’t run away from God’s given destiny.”

What we think is an opportunity for a moment, many times becomes our God-given gift to serve our fellow humans. God doesn’t need us to serve him. God has millions of angels singing His praise and worshiping Him, and messengers that come up and down the ladder of Jacob in Beth-El.

He needs us as His human flesh-and-blood messengers here on Earth, to share the goodness, grace and love that He has prepared for us humans, even before the foundation of the world, even before the sun, the moon and stars were placed in the vast endless space. Israel’s faith is about representing God down here on this Earth, the finite blue ball hanging in space that has a beginning and also an end.

Samson did everything to run away from the calling with which God called him before his birth. He went to the fields and bar-rooms of the enemy, the Philistines. The most important fact of the story of Samson is also a lesson for all of us. This is what the Apostle Paul states twice in his letter to the Romans:

“Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” (Romans 8:30; 9:24 NKJV)

I don’t believe the doctrine of John Calvin at all. The calling that God has for us is not to secure our salvation, but it is to direct our lives to the direction where the best qualification of life can and ought to be used. We learn from Samson’s story that, in the end, our mission for God's plan has to be fulfilled. We can do it willingly and enjoy God’s blessing.

Yet, if we try to run away from His direction and guidance, in the end with pain and sometimes with suffering, too, we will still be used and get the mission accomplished. We can run, but we can’t hide from God’s blessing and calling. Just like every biblical hero: there are those who run toward God, like Moses, and those like Samson who try to run away from God and from themselves. Yet, in the end, whether in a burning bush, or like Samson in a Philistine public-house after a haircut, shackled on the pillars of a Philistine pagan temple.

The principle that we learn from this Shabbat’s Torah reading, is that God has ways of testing us, like with the woman who was suspected of unfaithfulness to her husband, or in the case of a Nazirite like Samson who tried to run away from God’s calling.

The nation of Israel is the best example of all people who tried to run away from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From the ONE who called us His 'am Segula', His choice possession. In the end, the unbelievable has become believable. The only nation that was in exile, spread on the face of the whole earth, from the north to the south, from the east to the west. In the end the Jews will fulfill God’s calling and be the light of all the nations, as the prophets predicted.

The Earth will see the hand of God and turn away from idolatry and turn to God. Like Joseph in Egypt, the ONE who was hated by His brothers, will become the Savior of the Pagan nations and the vast multitude gathered by the crystal sea, will sing the SONG of MOSES and the Lamb.

I didn’t mention the text that we will be reading from the New Testament, from Acts chapter 20. Paul and seven of his gentile disciples made their way to Jerusalem. Before their arrival, they knew that Paul would be imprisoned in Jerusalem. Here is the text from Acts:

“And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ” Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:10-12 NKJV)

You see, Paul made a vow in the port of Corinth to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Pentecost, as you can read in Acts 18:20-23. He had to keep his vow at all cost as he himself says, all the while knowing that he will be imprisoned in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. This is Paul’s faithfulness to the Lord and to His mission. Bringing seven Gentiles to dedicate them as His first fruit among the nations. Seven for the 70 nations of the Gentiles.

You my dear brothers and sisters come close, stand with God’s chosen nation, and pray, intercede, support and stand with God’s chosen people. Remember, you can run, but you can’t hide from God, the Creator, Judge and Savior of all of His creation, including earth itself that is waiting and groaning for its salvation.

Happy Shavuot to all of you!

Yehuda Bachana: Where is the Fruit? [2020]

Shavuot is the third of the three biblical holy days, or the Three Pilgrimage Festivals. It is called “Shavuot”, or “weeks”, because it is celebrated at the end of the seven-week count from the beginning of Passover:

“You shall count seven weeks for yourself; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God…” – Deuteronomy 16:9-10 [NKJV]

The Torah has other names for the holiday: “Yom HaBikurim” (Day of the First Fruits), as it appears in Numbers 28:26, and “Hag HaKatzir” (the Feast of Harvest), as it appears in Exodus 23:16.

According to tradition, this is the day on which the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, so most of the customs of the holiday relate to Torah teaching, its acceptance, and Torah study.

It is customary to view Shavuot as the day on which the people of Israel were married to God on Mt. Sinai – and the Torah as the “Ketuvah”, or marriage agreement, which establishes our relationship with God.
We stand today together with all of the nation of Israel and try to imagine the electrifying atmosphere that encompassed Mt. Sinai as we too stood before God, saying, “we have heard and we will do.”

But the holiday of Shavuot is not only the “holiday of the giving of the Torah”, it is also, and perhaps most importantly, “the Holiday of the First Fruits.” In our faith life we mostly concentrate on the concept of receiving the Torah. We read the Torah every week, this is the day on which we think about the place that Mt. Sinai has in our life, we try to understand how to apply the Word of God, the Torah, into our lives.

While the other issue: “Bikurim” (First Fruits) remains ignored and mostly unexplained. Holiday pilgrimages no longer exist, and activities regarding the fulfillment of the “Bikurim” commandments are no longer relevant. We no longer live in an agricultural environment and none of us present “Bikurim” (First Fruits).

Therefore, today it is necessary to give to the holiday of Shavuot a Messianic flavor. We all have skills, gifts, and abilities. And there is the obligation for everyone to contribute their share and to give their “Bikurim” to the body of Messiah, or to the local congregation.

The First Fruits are identified in the Torah, and they are:

“…the first of all the produce of the ground…” – Deuteronomy 26:2

…and of them each resident of the Land of Israel will bring to the Temple. Also, the bringer of the First Fruits declares more or less: it was bad for us, we were slaves, but God intervened and saved us, and now it is well with us. And behold, I present the blessing of God, I bring this fruit in gratitude.

Although we are not part of the Land of Israel, and indeed there is no temple, we do have a "little temple" which is our house of prayer, and God did intercede and save us, and in any case, the essence of this holiday is “gratitude toward God” for all the goodness and blessings with which He has blessed us:

“So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the Lord your God has given to you.” – Deuteronomy 26:11

This gratitude toward God is not a matter of courtesy, it is a duty to fulfill. As we learn the holiday commandments, the lessons and morals of the holiday, we learn that we need to feel great joy that we are able to give thanks for the good in our lives.

I would like to argue that the commandment of the Bikurim is not “just” to bring the First Fruits, the main principle of the commandment is to lead us to express gratitude toward God for all that He provides us with, including bringing us, as He promised, to the Land of Israel in which we live and the fruit of the land that we enjoy (being financially successful).

The Lord says:

“…when you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it…” – Deuteronomy 26:1

And one answers:

“I declare today to the lord your God that I have come to the country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.” – Deuteronomy 26:3

So the commandment of the offering of the Bikurim is based on the bringing of the First Fruits to the Temple. But at its basis it is not just expressing gratitude for agricultural produce, but perhaps it is especially expressing gratitude for the good land that God swore to our forefathers.

This holiday reminds every student of the Bible that our dwelling, of the people of Israel, in the Land of Israel, is due to this promise.

If the bringing of the First Fruits is to thank God for the good that He gives us, for His grace, then we can still do that today. We can give God the First Fruits of our talents, income, time, and effort.

Yeshua, throughout the Scriptures, compares us to fruit trees, and as such, Yeshua requires of us, of our lives, fruit. God blessed us with many talents, the New Testament gives us a number of lists of gifts, talents, abilities, etc., be they gifts of physical help or spiritual help.

Every person has a role, every person has a gift. And so every believer should have a role in the congregation. We must all contribute our part to the congregation, and to society.

How do we perceive the congregation? Do we imagine the congregation to be a place that we come to, sit for a while, sing a little, pray a little, and a for a little while listen to a sermon and then go home?

And in so doing have I fulfilled my obligation of faith? Is God now happy with me, simply because I went to God’s house?

The greater question that the Scriptures ask, that Yeshua asks is: Where is the fruit?

It is not so wise to simply come to the congregation on Saturday or Sunday and to sit and think: That’s it, I did the will of God, I showed up, I sat, a day is coming when I will receive my wages from the King of Kings. We are all God's workers, and are required to build up the Body of Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven. We each have skills and gifts, and we must use them, and donate them to the congregation! To build up the community!

He also spoke this parable:

“A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’  But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’” – Luke 13:6-9 [NKJV]

As part of the commandments of the bringing of the First Fruits, we must be truly happy, with our rights and ability to do good, to help and to serve others. Once a year it is worth remembering the fruit that we have borne and presented to God. To give an account before God: what I did for the Kingdom of Heaven this year.

The Corona period in particular emphasizes our social responsibility, how we are all connected to one another. And we have witnessed tremendous social giving, countless volunteers, who have not thought of themselves but how to help others who are in crisis or are a part of at-risk groups, with great concern for the elderly, and even purchases and donations of computers to young people in difficult financial situations so that they too could study using Zoom. This represents humanity at its best.

Have a happy holiday!

Joseph Shulam: A Call to Give God Our Best [2019]

There are three pilgrimage feasts in the Torah: Passover, Shavuot, and Succoth (which is the Feast of Tabernacles). On these feasts, Jews and non-Jews from all around the world would gather in Jerusalem to worship the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The Feast of Shavuot was very special because it ended 50 days of harvest and gathering of God’s wealth in the provisions of the land. One of the main aspects of this Feast of Shavuot was the bringing of the firstfruits to the Lord’s house in Jerusalem, and presenting them to the priests and Levites in a very colorful ceremony.

The giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai is also associated with this feast, and of course this is the reason why the good Lord chose this very day to manifest His Holy Spirit on the apostles, and on the people of Israel and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.


The Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) is the occasion of bringing the first fruit that has grown and ripened for the season, the spring season. Deuteronomy chapter 26 is of great importance here, because it is the only chapter that reveals to the reader what the worshiper, who comes to Jerusalem to worship the Lord, must say in front of the priest (the Cohen) who serves the Lord in his day.

This text is important because it gives us a glimpse of what was going on inside the Temple. The worshiper comes with his gifts to God through the auspices of the priest. The priest receives the gift (sacrifice) and the worshiper says the following strange things:

“The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.’ Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.” - Deuteronomy 26:4-11 [NKJV]

Here in this grand occasion, when the Israelite worshiper comes to Jerusalem, in his hands are the firstfruits of his labor, the best of the best of his fields and orchards. He hands the basket of the first fruits to the priest and this is what he says: “My father was a wandering (lost) Aramian (Syrian).”

This worshiper is speaking about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These are the fathers of the nation of Israel and he calls Abraham a wandering (lost) Aramian (Syrian). Is this Israelite worshiper minimizing the importance of of Abraham by calling him a lost Syrian? Yes, and no!

Let us look at another document from a period close to the appearance of Book of Deuteronomy on the scene:

“Look down from heaven, And see from Your habitation, holy and glorious. Where are Your zeal and Your strength, The yearning of Your heart and Your mercies toward me? Are they restrained? Doubtless You are our Father, Though Abraham was ignorant of us, And Israel does not acknowledge us. You, O Lord, are our Father; Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name.” - Isaiah 63:15,16 [NKJV]

Here in Isaiah, the worshiper claims the Lord God as the father of Israel, not Abraham. With all of Abraham’s greatness, both in this passage in Isaiah and in Deuteronomy 26, Abraham is not the father of the nation, or the savior of the nation of Israel, or the deliverer of Israel from Egyptian slavery. God Himself is the Savior of Israel, “Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name”!

Here are some of the implications of this short text that allows to look into the words that were spoken by the worshiper during the highest moment of his yearly encounter with the Lord, through the priest and the gift of firstfruits to the Lord:

  1. The worshiper approaches worship with great humility. He is not the benefactor of the Lord. He is the recipient of God’s goodness and mercy. He confesses both his own and his father’s total dependence on God. King David did the same in his last prayer: “Therefore David blessed the Lord before all the assembly; and David said: ‘Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You.’” - 1 Chronicles 29:10–14 [NKJV]
  2. The worshiper brings to the Lord the first fruit, the best fruit, and not the leftover fruit of the field and from the fruit trees.
  3. After giving God the best of the best, the worshiper is invited to thank God for the good things that God has given him. This phrase is worded in a special way. The worshiper is not invited to thank God for everything that has happened in his life during the past year. He is invited to thank God for all the good things that happened in his life. The not-so-good-things that happen in our lives have many sources and causes. The good things that happen to us and to our households are all from God and His goodness.

There is a question that I am sure many will ask, “What are the other sources in our lives that cause us some hardships and grief?” I will answer this question in brief:

  1. Our own stupidity and mistakes. This is probably one of the main sources of grief and sometimes suffering in our own lives. There is no one else that we can blame other than our mistakes and stupidity. If we drive too fast around a curve and the physics of the centrifugal forces throw us off the road and we have a bad accident – it is not the devil, it is not a demon, it is our own stupidity and lack of foresight and wisdom that has caused the accident.
  2. Sin in our lives can have painful consequences that can cause pain and grief and even illness.
  3. Nature – the very nature of all flesh is to grow old and decay.
  4. God at times wants to educate us and equip us for a higher challenge, and like a boot camp, He takes us through a series of obstacle courses in order to build our abilities, train our minds, and prepare us through suffering for a greater task and success in life.

This last one is one of the most difficult for us to understand, and at times we think that our whole world is collapsing and we can’t take it even one more day. The sun comes up the next day, and we understand that, despite the great hardships and difficulties, in the end it is like what the apostle Paul said in Romans chapter 8: “all thing work together for the good of those who love the Lord.”

Paul is basing this statement on several passages in the Psalms and in the prophets. The main passage is from Psalm 145:14-20:

“The Lord upholds all who fall, And raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look expectantly to You, And You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them. The Lord preserves all who love Him, But all the wicked He will destroy.” - Psalms 145:14–20 [NKJV]

The Key phrase is in Psalm 145:17, “The Lord is righteous in all His ways.” In other words, if you separate one of God’s actions (in the Bible, or in history, or in your own life) you might think that He is unrighteous, but if you look at the big picture you will see that He is righteous and all His ways are righteous.

Joseph Shulam: A Holiday for Jews and Non-Jews [2009]

In just a few hours, right at sunset, the Feast of Shavuot, or Weeks, or Greek Pentecost, is going to enter. The Feast of Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage feasts in the Torah. There are three pilgrimage feasts in the Torah: Passover, Shavuot, and Succoth (which is Tabernacles). On these feasts, Jews and non-Jews from all around the world would gather in Jerusalem to worship the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The Feast of Shavuot was very special because it ended 50 days of harvest and gathering of God’s wealth in the provisions of the land. One of the main aspects of this Feast of Shavuot was the bringing of the First Fruits to the Lord’s House in Jerusalem, and presenting them to the priests and Levites in a very colorful ceremony.

The giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai is also associated with this feast, and of course this is the reason why the good Lord chose this very day to manifest His Holy Spirit on the apostles, and on the people of Israel and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

In our congregation tonight we have an all-night study, food and worship, and if there is going to be time, we will watch the Hollywood film “The Ten Commandments” with Charleston Heston as Moses. This is a very ancient custom of spending all night in the study of God’s word and in eating milk products and reading the book of Ruth.

Shavuot is also the holiday of the proselytes and god-fearers. Although the apostle Paul was very much against Judaizing the Gentiles and forcing them to circumcise and convert to Judaism. He was also very much for the Gentiles to accept and receive the God of Israel as their God, and to abandon their idols and the demons that they worshipped.

In other words, Paul did not preach a “Lawless Gospel”, and he did not allow the Gentiles to continue in their ways and worship their old gods that were idols. But he wanted them to leave the idols behind and to turn to the God of Israel.

Essentially what Paul wanted is for the Gentiles to be converted from idolatry to the faith in One God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and His Son Yeshua the King of the Jews. The idea is that we are together but different, the Jew remains a Jew and the Gentile does not convert to Judaism, but he does abandon the idols and turns to the God of Abraham, the God of Israel. This is really what it means to be grafted into the natural olive tree (Romans 11).

So, in a way, every non-Jew who gave his life to God and to Yeshua the Messiah is a semi-proselyte. He left the idols of his fathers and turned to the God of Abraham, he left the many gods of Greece and Rome and associated with the God of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.

I realize that I am putting things in a different light than many of my readers are used to, but if you think about it in biblical terms, you will see that this is really what Paul was preaching. This is why Paul came back to Jerusalem with the seven non-Jewish young men and with the contribution that the churches in Asia Minor and Greece gave for the Saints in Jerusalem.

Truly what Paul was doing was fulfilling the promises that God gave to Israel in the prophets, that non-Jews will come and join Israel in the worship of God:

“And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’ For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 2:3

Shavuot is, I believe, the holiday of both Jews and non-Jews who are disciples of Yeshua, and that is why it is on this very day that the Holy Spirit filled the apostles of Yeshua who were gathered on Mt. Zion in an upper room.

You might be interested to know that when the Pope was here ten days ago, he asked the State of Israel to give the Catholic Church the place that is now being shown to tourists as the “upper room” on Mt. Zion. I don’t think that the State of Israel has yet given an answer to the Pope about this issue.

At any rate, the so-called “upper room” could not have been the upper room in which Yeshua and His disciples took the Passover. The whole building was built during the Crusader period, and if one looks more carefully on the walls he will see the “fleur-de-lis”, and also Crusader crests were painted on the wall nearly 1000 years ago, and they are still there.

But, what could we say, if the Pope wants the “upper room”, maybe the State of Israel will consider giving it to him. Politics is often an exercise in ignoring the facts.