This week’s Torah portion covers Exodus 30:11 to 34:35. The narrative pendulum swings from Israel’s highest high— the giving of the ten commandments— to her lowest low—the casting of the golden calf. At the exact moment that Moses descends from his forty-day stint on Mount Sinai, he witnesses the people reveling in idolatry, breaking the first two of the ten commandments. Moses has barely loosened his grip on the stone tablets before he smashes them into pieces.
In this context of righteous anger framed by divine promise, God lays out for Moses the ritual calendar which will guide the Jewish people for the next three and a half millennia. Three times a year, God commands, the people must appear before the sovereign Lord with their sacrifices and offerings: The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and Passover (Pesach).
The holiday of Shavuot has long commemorated the giving of the Torah, even though the Bible only references it in recognition of the grain harvest. If you haven’t heard of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, that’s probably because you are more familiar with its Greek name: Pentecost.