Where did Pentecost come from?

Image: NJOP

Consider these words from the first reading for Pentecost Sunday:
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
It's easy for Christians to misunderstand what's meant here by the fulfillment "for the time for Pentecost."  The disciples of Jesus were in Jerusalem where they had gone at Jesus' instruction (Acts 1:4-5) to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jerusalem was mobbed because faithful Jews had come there to celebrate Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks which falls 50 days after Passover. 

What is Shavuot?  The site Judaism 101 tells us:
Shavu'ot, the Festival of Weeks, is the second of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Passover and Sukkot). Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, and is known as Hag ha-Bikkurim (the Festival of the First Fruits). Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah). 
The period from Passover to Shavu'ot is a time of great anticipation. We count each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavu'ot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival. See The Counting of the Omer. The counting reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavu'ot: Passover freed us physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavu'ot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality. Shavu'ot is also known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day; however, Shavu'ot has no particular similarity to the Christian holiday of Pentecost...
In 2016, the celebration of Shavuot will begin at sundown on June 11.

Over at To Bend Light my good cyber-friend, Alden Solovy, offers us a collection of prayers and stories for Shavuot.  And here you'll find his weekly prayers for Counting of the Omer for the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot.

I'm pleased to share with you here one of Alden's prayers for Shavuot.  Keep in mind that Torah, in its narrowest sense, refers to the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, sometimes called the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses. In its broadest sense, Torah is the entire body of Jewish teachings.

Let Torah
Let Torah hold your moments
Carry your days,
Lift your years.

Let Torah fill your hands,
Nourish your breath,
Refresh your heart.

Let Torah sustain your words,
Enliven your deeds
Lead you home.

For Torah is in each life and each generation,
In the yearning for God and in God’s yearning for us,
The flow of secrets from Sinai,
Divine guidance and grace,
Calling out to you dear sisters and brothers:
‘Awake you slumberers!
Awake you who wander empty and lonely without wonder and awe.
Have you forgotten this precious gift?
Have you forsaken your past and your future?
Have you traded your birthright for empty promises?’

This, then, is God’s command:
Let Torah hold you,
Fill you,
Sustain you.
Let Torah guide you into radiance and mystery.
Study and learn,
Question and seek,
Hear and grow,
Lifting your life in sacred service.
Let Torah be your breath and your heartbeat.

Blessed are You, Source of Torah.

© 2011 Alden Solovy and To Bend Light


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