What does the Christian Pentecost have in common with the Jewish Shavuot?

“Shavuot is celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover. Seven weeks after the miracle-filled liberation from Egypt, God gave His people the Torah,” explains Rabbi Oded Peles, an Israeli educator, in a commentary for the Heschel Center of the Catholic University of Lublin for the May 19 celebration of Pentecost. While Jews celebrate Pentecost (Shavuot) fifty days after Passover, Christians celebrate another Pentecost fifty days after Easter.

The reading for Pentecost Sunday from Acts of the Apostles (2,2) In the Hebrew version reads: “On the day the seven weeks were completed, they were all together”.

Pentecost in Hebrew is Shavuot which literally means – “the Weeks” – the name of the holiday in which according to the Jewish tradition, the Israelites received the Torah, the five books of Moses on Mount Sinai.

The Jewish Pentecost, Shavuot, is celebrated on the fiftieth day after Pesach, Passover. Seven weeks after the miraculous redemption out of Egypt – God gave the Torah to his people. However, the Exodus from Egypt was only the physical freedom of the Israelites. it was the beginning of a seven week process that climaxed with the spiritual freedom they gained once the Torah was given to them on Shavuot.

As commanded in the book of Leviticus (23,15-16): “…you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete; you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to God”. Annually in spring, we count forty nine days from Passover towards Shavuot Pentecost, elevating our spirituality and eagerly hoping to be worthy once again of receiving the Torah from God.

But what is required of the individuals and of the nation to be worthy of receiving God’s word?

The Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 9, 9), a commentary on the Torah discusses peace:

“Peace is great, for with regard to all the journeys of the Israelites in the wilderness it is always written in plural: “And they journeyed … and they encamped”. They journeyed in conflict and encamped in conflict.  When, however, they came to Mount Sinai, they all became one encampment, as it reads in singular form: “And there Israel encamped before the mount” (Exodus 19,2). The Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘Since Israel hates conflicts and loves peace and became one encampment, this is the time when I will give them My Torah’”. Rashi, the great commentator points out that at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites camped “like one person with one heart!”. Once the nation camped united as one in peace and harmony, they reached spiritual freedom and were eligible to receive the word of God “Torah of life”.

Similarly, Acts states that the disciples were united in faith and prayer awaiting for the gifts of the Holy Spirit : ” With one heart all these joined constantly in prayer” (Acts 1, 14).

About the Author

Rabbi Oded Peles – cantor, musicologist, Israeli educator and tour guide. Oded Peles was born in Petach Tikva, Israel to a Dutch-German Jewish family. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, a renowned cantor of the Rotterdam synagogue, the Netherlands, Oded has served and performed as a Cantor in communities worldwide, for over thirty years.