By Ken Abramowitz, JNS.org
Beginning at sunset on May 28 and until sunset on May 30, Jews the world over will be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost), in commemoration of receiving the Torah (the Five Books of Moses), that God gave the to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai more than 3,300 years ago.
Shavuot, however, should be noted also by non-Jews, because it “highlights the liberty to embrace the Torah” which impacts 100 percent of the world’s population of 7.8 billion. How can that be?
As Israeli Ambassador Yoram Ettinger explains, about 3,300 years ago, Shavuot was originally an agricultural holiday celebrating the first harvest in ancient Israel. However, it was also the time when God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jews at Mount Sinai. Since the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 C.E. and the exile of the Jews from Israel began, observing Shavuot strengthened the spiritual awareness of Jews as to the importance of the Torah, wherever they might be living.
The Ten Commandments are the basic laws of the Torah (the Old Testament), which approximately 1,300 years later became the foundation of the New Testament. Approximately 1,776 years later, the Old and New Testaments became the basis for the U.S. Declaration of Independence (Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness), as well as its Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Together, these religious laws and resulting secular laws created Western civilization, with its concepts of democracy, rule of law and minority rights. Today, approximately 50 percent of the world’s population lives in a democracy. The other 50 percent live under authoritarian rule in China, Russia, North Korea, Cuba and most Muslim countries.
So why is Shavuot crucial to 100 percent of the world’s population?
It is crucial because the 50 percent who live under the rule of law in democracies are direct beneficiaries of the Ten Commandments and the Torah. It is also critical for the other 50 percent of people who live under authoritarian rule, who yearn to live under the rule of law inherent in democracies, as the citizens of Hong Kong are passionately seeking, for example.
Let us hope that the democracies overcome their collective near-term challenges (fighting pandemics while preserving their citizens’ liberty), so they remain the guiding light for those suffering under authoritarian rule.
Two traditions to celebrate Shavuot are all-night Torah study and feasting on dairy foods, as a symbol of their promised “land flowing with milk and honey” — namely, the land of Israel.
Ken Abramowitz is the president and founder of SaveTheWest.