SHABUOT: The 5 traditions of Shabu’ot


Tonight we will celebrate Shabu’ot, the day we received the Tora. There are 5 minhagim (customs) that most Jewish communities observe in Shabu’ot. To remember these customs, we use the Hebrew word אחרית A / HA / R / I / T, which is the acrostic of these five traditions.

A: Azharot or Aqdamot. During Shabu’ot we read the beautiful poems (piyutim) composed by the Geonim and Rishonim, which poetically describe the 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions of the Tora. In these poems, we mention all the commandments that were entrusted to us. The word AZHAROT literally means “warnings” and refers to the rules and precepts of the Tora (and the numerical value of the word אזהרת is 613 = 365 + 248).

HA: Halab (milk), as in any other Yom Tob, during Shabuot we should eat meat and drink wine to fulfill the Mitsva of simha, celebrating and enjoying the day of Yom Tob. Still, the custom is that some meals are done with dairy products. There are several explanations (Sefer haToda’a mentions 10) explaining why we have dairy meals for Shabu’ot. One such explanation is that the Hebrew word Halab חלב sums “40”, which reminds us of the days that Moses stayed on Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.

R: Ruth. During Shabu’ot we study Megillat Ruth. One of the reasons why the story of Ruth is read at Shabuot is that when Ruth converted to Judaism she accepted the entire Tora. In the same way, in Shabu’ot we celebrate our own “conversion” to Judaism by accepting the Tora. Another reason is that after the acceptance of the conversion of Ruth, from whom King David descends, we learn the complete dependence of the written Tora on the oral Tora, since according to the literal text of the Tora, the conversion of Ruth might not have been accepted. The legality of the conversion of a Moabite woman, however, is learned from the oral tradition (Tora Shebe’al pe).

I: Yereq (green plants). Many communities have the custom of decorating the synagogue with plants and flowers to remember Har Sinai. We cherish in our collective memory that when we received the Torah was spring and Mount Sinai was filled with plants and flowers. In the tradition of the Jews of Iran this custom is so important that Shabu’ot is known as mo’ed ghol (the festival of flowers).

T: Tiqun (Reparation). One of the best-known customs of Shabu’ot is to stay awake all night (from midnight until dawn) studying Tora to “repair” what our forefathers did. What happened? The night of 6 Sivan, HaShem gave the people of Israel the 10 commandments. Later that same night, HaShem revealed to Moses all the commandments found in Parasha Mishpatim. The next day, the covenant in which the people of Israel would accept all the commandments of the Tora would be held. Instead of waiting awake and enthusiastically to this great event, our ancestors fell asleep. Apparently this custom was originally established by Rabbi Shelomo Halevi Alqabets (1500-1580) –a colleague of Rabbi Yosef Caro , the author of Shulhan Arukh– who established the tradition of staying up all night studying Tora to repair what our ancestors did, and show our love, devotion and enthusiasm to receive the Tora.

חג שמח