This was not scheduled initially, but a special opportunity arose; and half of our group decided it was worth the cost.
The price? One very early morning—on the bus at 4:45 AM.
The payoff? A once-in-a-lifetime witnessing of the Jewish festival of Shavuot.
Next question: What on earth is Shavuot?
For a concise summary, I turn to Wikipedia:
Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai, although the association between the giving of the Torah (Matan Torah) and Shavuot is not explicit in the Biblical text. The holiday is one of the Shalosh Regalim, the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals. It marks the conclusion of the Counting of the Omer.
The date of Shavuot is directly linked to that of Passover. The Torah mandates the seven-week Counting of the Omer, beginning on the second day of Passover and immediately followed by Shavuot. This counting of days and weeks is understood to express anticipation and desire for the Giving of the Torah. On Passover, the Jewish people were freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh; on Shavuot they were given the Torah and became a nation committed to serving God.
Framed another way, this is the Jewish Pentecost. That might muddle things up at first. It’s not that the Jews were celebrating the coming of the Spirit, but Pentecost is fifty (notice that prefix pente-) days after Passover. And when Acts 2 unfolds, we see a scene of Jews from every nation gathered for this pilgrimage event, to celebrate the giving of the Torah.
That’s all well and good, but why get up at 4:45 AM?
Well, today’s Jews celebrate Shavuot through the night. In honour of the Torah and its place in their lives, they commit to staying up through all night long in study of this sacred text. This happens in homes, schools, and at the Western Wall. Before sunrise arrives the next morning, the crowd builds at the Western Wall until the plaza there is packed. As sunrise nears, songs and prayers and readings begin. Waves of murmured voices rise and fall. Groups with the mass of people form around tables that contain actual scrolls of the Torah, and nearly everyone in the crowd is carrying their “Bible”—some reading it quietly, some reading aloud, some rocking in prayer as they clasp it, some leafing through its pages as their lips move silently.
Young, old, men, women, families, babies—all gathered.
And it was in a setting like that when a sound like a that of a violent wind came and filled the place. Tongues of fire fell, and Torah-lovers from all over the world began to hear the apostles preach their Jesus-message in their native languages. In the confusion of the moment, some accused them of drunkenness. But that theory was shot down quickly. Why? Because it was too early to be drunk. (I’ve never been drunk, but my body told me at 4:45 AM that it was too early for MOST things!)
There are a number of fascinating implications for how this makes the Pentecost story in Acts 2 come alive in new ways, but I’ll leave them simmer for a bit. Suffice it to say that our morning, early enough to drive this never-napper to a ninety-minute crash by mid-afternoon, was well worth the effort.
So if Shavuot comes up on Jeopardy tonight, I expect you to win the cash!