Shavuot (Feast of Weeks)

Shavuot (Feast of Weeks)

Monday, May 16, 2021 is the feast of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks)

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What Is Shavuot? What Shavuot Commemorates

The word Shavuot means “weeks.” It celebrates the completion of the seven-week Omer counting period between Passover and Shavuot.

Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.

Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel (Exodus 34: 22-23)

The Torah was given by God to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai on Shavuot. Every year on the holiday of Shavuot we renew our acceptance of God’s gift, and God “re-gives” the Torah.

The giving of the Torah was a far-reaching spiritual event—one that touched the essence of the Jewish soul for all times. Our sages have compared it to a wedding between God and the Jewish people. Shavuot also means “oaths,” for on this day God swore eternal devotion to us, and we in turn pledged everlasting loyalty to Him.

In ancient times, two wheat loaves would be offered in the Holy Temple on Shavuot. It was also at this time that people would begin to bring bikkurim, their first and choicest fruits, to thank God for Israel’s bounty.

Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God (Exodus 23: 19)

In some of the Israeli Kibbutz, until today, they celebrate Shavuot as an agricultural feast, where the entire community celebrates together, presenting the first fruits of the land and the first babies born during that year, all connected to nature, to the land and to the people living in the land.

Few photos from a Shavuot celebration in a Kibbutz in Israel

How Is Shavuot Celebrated?

Women and girls light holiday candles to usher in the holiday, on both the first and second evenings of the holidays.

It is customary to stay up all night learning Torah on the first night of Shavuot.

All men, women and children should go to the synagogue to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments on the first day of Shavuot.

As on other holidays, special meals are eaten, and no “work” may be performed.

It is customary to eat dairy foods on Shavuot. Menus range from traditional cheese blintzes to quiches, casseroles and more.

Some communities read the Book of Ruth during morning services, as King David—whose passing occurred on this day—was a descendant of Ruth the Moabite.

Some have the custom to decorate their homes (and synagogues) with flowers and sweet-smelling plants in advance of Shavuot, since this a holiday connected to nature.

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Jerusalem Day

Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim)

Monday, May 10, 2021 is Jerusalem day this year, 54 years to Jerusalem being united.

When we visit Jerusalem, its hard to believe that until 1967, you couldn’t actually visit the Old City within the walls, since it was under Jordan. Jews were allowed access to the Western Wall, the holiest place for Jews, only after the six days war. Why do we have a day dedicated all to Jerusalem? What is the importance of this day?

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From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count

Jerusalem Day (יום ירושלים‎, Yom Yerushalayim) is an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old Cityin the aftermath of the June 1967 Six-Day War. The day is officially marked by state ceremonies and memorial services.
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared Jerusalem Day a minor religious holiday to mark the regaining of access to the Western Wall.

Historical background
Under the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, which proposed the establishment of two states in British Mandatory Palestine – a Jewish state and an Arab state – Jerusalem was to be an international city, neither exclusively Arab nor Jewish for a period of ten years, at which point a referendum would be held by Jerusalem residents to determine which country to join. The Jewish leadership accepted the plan, including the internationalization of Jerusalem, but the Arabs rejected the proposal.

On 15 May 1948, the day after Israel declared its independence, it was attacked by its Arab neighbors. Jordan seized East Jerusalem and the Old City. Israeli forces made a concerted attempt to dislodge them, but were unable to do so. By the end of the 1948 Arab=Israeli War Jerusalem was left divided between Israel and Jordan. The Old City and East Jerusalem continued to be occupied by Jordan, and the Jewish residents were forced out. Under Jordanian rule, half of the Old City’s fifty-eight synagogues were demolished and the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was plundered for its tombstones, which were used as paving stones and building materials.

This state of affairs changed in 1967 as a result of the Six-Day War. Before the start of the war, Israel sent a message to King Hussein of Jordan, saying that Israel would not attack Jerusalem or the West Bank as long as the Jordanian front remained quiet. Urged by Egyptian pressure and based on deceptive intelligence reports, Jordan began shelling civilian locations in Israel, to which Israel responded on 6 June by opening the eastern front. The following day, 7 June 1967 (28 Iyar 5727), Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem.

Later that day, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan declared what is often quoted during Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim):

This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem. We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors we extend, also at this hour—and with added emphasis at this hour—our hand in peace. And to our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens, we solemnly promise full religious freedom and rights. We did not come to Jerusalem for the sake of other peoples’ holy places, and not to interfere with the adherents of other faiths, but in order to safeguard its entirety, and to live there together with others, in unity.

The war ended with a ceasefire on 11 June 1967.

Celebrations
On 12 May 1968, the government proclaimed a new holiday – Jerusalem Day – to be celebrated on the 28th of Iyar, the Hebrew date on which the divided city of Jerusalem became one. On 23 March 1998, the Knesset (Parliament) passed the Jerusalem Day Law, making the day a national holiday.

One of the themes of Jerusalem Day, based on a verse from the Psalms, is “Built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together” (Psalm 122:3).

While the day is not widely celebrated outside Israel, and has lost its significance for most secular Israelis, the day is still very much celebrated by Israel’s Religious Zionists community with parades and additional prayers in the synagogue.

Watch a short video I made about this day below:

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Lag BaOmer

Lag Ba’Omer

Thursday, April 29, 2021 is the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer.

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From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord (Leviticus 23: 15-16)

Lag Baomer is the 33rd day of this count, from Passover to Shavuot (Petecost)

In Israel, after Passover the school year is practically over. This is not only because summer is around the corner, but also because almost every week until summer is punctuated with days off from school due to holidays and commemorative days.

We mark Passover, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day), Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day), Lag B’Omer, and Shavuot (the Festival of Weeks) in the span of seven weeks. We are currently in the middle of this time period, and the countdown to summer vacation has already begun!

In Leviticus 23:15-16 the Bible tells us, “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks.Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.” These verses direct us to count the 50 days between Passover and The Festival of Weeks. In Hebrew, the offering that marks the beginning of the counting is called the “omer,” and counting these 50 days is known as “sefirat ha’omer,” which means, “counting of the Omer”

Counting of the Omer is an important verbal counting of each of the forty-nine days starting with the Wace offering of a sheaf of ripe grain with a sacrifice immediately following the commencement of the grain harvest, and the First Fruits festival celebrating the end of the grain harvest, known as Feast of Weeks/Shavuot/Pentecost (Deuteronomy 16: 9-12, Leviticus 23: 10-16) or in the varying current Jewish holidays traditions, the period between the Passover or Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Shavuot. This is the second of the three annual feast periods from the Bible.

The idea of counting each day represents spiritual preparation and anticipation for the giving of the Torah which was given by God on Mount Sinai at the beginning of the month of Sivan, around the same time as the holiday of Shavuot. Thus the Counting of the Omer demonstrates how much a Jew desires to accept the Torah in their own life.

The period of counting the Omer is also a time of semi-mourning, during which traditional Jewish custom forbids haircuts, shaving, listening to instrumental music, or conducting weddings, parties, and dinners with dancing. Traditionally, the reason cited is that this is in memory of a plague that killed the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva (ca. 40–ca. 137 AD).

According to the Talmud, 12,000 pairs of Torah study partners, 24,000 in all, were killed (they were either killed by the Romans during the Bar Kochba revolt 132–136 AD or they died in a “plague”) as a sign of Divine anger during the days of the Omer-counting for not honoring one another properly as befits Torah scholars.

Lag BaOmer, the thirty-third day of the Counting of the Omer, is considered to be the day in which the plague was lifted, (and/or the day in which the rebellion saw a victory during the uprising of Bar Kochba) so on that day, all the rules of mourning are lifted.

The Jewish calendar is largely agricultural, and the period of Omer falls between Passover and Shavuot. On Passover there is a shift from praying for rain to praying for dew and this coincides with the growth period for the fruit of the season. Shavuot is the day of the giving of the first fruits (bikkurim). The outcome of the season’s crop and fruit was still vulnerable during this period. Over these seven weeks, daily reflection, work on improving one’s personality characteristics (middot) and potential inner growth from this work on one self was one way to pray for and invite the possibility of affecting one’s external fate and potential – the growth of the crop and the fruit of that season.

Although the period of the Omer is traditionally a mourning one, on Lag BaOmer Jews can do actions that are not allowed during mourning. Many Religious Zionists trim their beards or shave their growth, and do other actions that are typically not allowed during the mourning period, on Israel’s Independence Day.

Besides being the day on which the plague affecting Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased, Lag Baomer is traditionally observed as marking the commemoration of the death of Rebbi Shimon Bat Yochai, a famous 1st-century Jewish sage in ancient Israel. After the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students, Rabbi Akiva taught five students, among them Rebbi Shimon. The latter went on to become the greatest teacher of Torah in his generation. According to tradition, on the day of his death, he revealed the deepest secrets of the Torah in a Kabbalistic work called the Zohar.

According to the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon’s house was filled with fire and light that entire day as he taught his students. At the end of the day, the fire subsided and Rabbi Shimon died.

On successive years, his students sought to recreate that experience of light and mystical revelation by kindling bonfires and studying the Zohar in the light of the flames.

Although the anniversary of the death of a righteous person is usually a mournful day, the anniversary of Rebbi Shimon’s death on Lag BaOmer is a festive one. Bonfires are lit and people sing and dance by the flames. Weddings, parties, listening to music, picnics, and haircuts are commonplace.

According to the Talmud, Rebbi Shimon bar Yohai criticized the Roman government and was forced to go into hiding with his son Elazar for thirteen years. They sheltered in a cave (which local tradition places in Peki’in). Next to the mouth of the cave a carob tree sprang up and a spring of fresh water gushed forth. Provided against hunger and thirst they cast off their clothing except during prayers to keep them from wearing out, embedded themselves in the sand up to their necks, and studied the Torah all day long. He and his son left the cave when they received a Heavenly voice saying that the Roman Emperor had died and consequently all his decrees were abolished. According to tradition, they left their place of hiding on Lag BaOmer, and while when they were in hiding in the cave they studied Torah together in their cramped space accepting each other’s presence and from that study there came forth the basis of the Zohar‘s mystical revelations which in a sense was regarded as a “replacement” for the Torah that was “lost” as a result of the death of the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva. This is another reason to celebrate the “light” of the Zohar which means “splendor” or “radiance” in Hebrew.

The period of the counting of the Omer is considered to be a time of potential for inner growth – for a person to work on one’s good characteristics through reflection and development of one aspect each day for the 49 days of the counting.

Spiritual Preparation
According to Jewish tradition, the origin of this counting goes back to the very first Passover. Right after the Israelites left Egypt, Moses informed them that they would be receiving the Word of God seven weeks later. The Israelites were so excited to receive the Bible that they counted the days until the day of Revelation arrived. During that time, the Israelites also prepared spiritually. Since then, the Jewish people have counted these 50 days and designated them as a time for spiritual growth and development.

The Jewish people count up the days until The Festival of Weeks, starting with day number one and ending at day 50, not like when you are counting down towards something.

When we count down the days to an anticipated event, it increases the how we perceive the value of the coming day. But at the same time, it decreases the value of all the days in between. If day 10 is just a day that I must make it through in order to get to day 25, then I have robbed day ten of its intrinsic value. When we count down the days to an event, we can mistakenly relate to those days as obstacles in our way, when the truth is that each day is a priceless gift from God.

Growing Closer to God
This is why we count up towards Shavuot. It expresses our excitement for this special day without diminishing the days that lead up to it. Just as the ancient Israelites used these 50 days to prepare for receiving the Bible, we see each day as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Starting at day one, we grow a bit more each day so that by day 50, we have truly transformed. By counting up the days to Shavuot, we make every day count.

It is wonderful to have good times to look forward to, but let’s not forget the value of each and every moment.

Every day is an opportunity to bless others and grow closer to God. Every day is a chance to make a difference in the world and to make our lives matter. And if we have learned anything in the past year it is that every day is a precious gift from God, filled with His abundant blessings. Let us say as King David said, “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalms 118: 24).

The best way to thank God for another day is to make the most of it!

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Independence Day

Independence Day

Thursday, April 15, 2021 is Israel’s 73 day of Independence.

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Happy Birthday Israel !

Lots of times, when touring Israel during Memorial Day and Independence Day, we try to explain about the transformation from a day of sadness, a day when the entire nation remembers the fallen soldiers, into a day of happiness, when we celebrate the existence and independence of the State of Israel.

How can you move from extreme sadness into happiness?

One of the ways to explain it, is that thanks to the fallen soldiers, thanks to these who gave up their lives for Israel, we are able to celebrate and be happy.
Sadness and happiness are tied together, this is Israel in short.

This year, on Independence Day, we will remember the fallen soldiers and we will be happy that we are here, strong, and here to stay.

Happy 73rd Independence Day Israel!

Some facts about Israel in 2021, 73 years old:

9,327 million people 6,894 million Jews (73.9%) 1,966 million Arabs (21.1%) 467 thousands others (5%)

Since last Independence day (2020), Israel grew with 137,000 people (1.5%), 167,000 babies were born, 16,300 new immigrants arrives to Israel and about 50,000 people died.

When Israel was established in 1948, there were 806,000 people in Israel, around 82.1% Jews and 17.9% Arabs.

Towards the 100th independence day of Israel (in 2048) we expect the population to be around 15.2 million people.

Read an article here in The Jerusalem Post about Jewish population at lowest percentage since founding of Israel

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Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers

Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers

Wednesday, April 14, 2021 is Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers in Israel.

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Remember …

When you tour Israel on that day, you are always surprised by the fact that there is a siren going on at 11 am and life stops. Cars will stop, people will go out, everyone will stand still for 2 minutes and honor the fallen soldiers from all the wars of Israel and also the civilians, the victims of terrorism.

This year, on Memorial Day, we will remember the 23,928 soldiers who died during the different wars of Israel since 1860, and the 4176 civilians who were killed by terror attacks.

A total of 43 deaths were added to Israel’s list of fallen soldiers between the

previous Remembrance Day until now, with another 69 disabled persons dying as a result of injury in defense services.

Memorial Day in Israel is a very personal day. When that siren goes off, we all stand and remember certain people, friends and family, who lost their lives so we can continue living here and be safe. With such a huge number of dead, almost everyone here in Israel knows someone who lost his life in the war, so for us, this day is very sad, very personal, very Israeli.

May their living memory stay with us for ever!

Last year, I made a video about Memorial day. I am putting it here for you to watch, it will explain this day and the connection between this day and the following day, Day of Independence, it also gives you an understanding of the history of Israel from its establishment till now.

 

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