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Lunch & Learn Program

The Chicago Loop Synagogue is pleased to host the Philip & Rebecca Esformes Lunch & Learn Program, sponsored through the generosity of Rabbi & Mrs. Morris Esformes.

The Lunch & Learn Program af- fords our community an opportunity to take a break from work, enjoy a lunch, hear a spiritually meaningful D’Var Torah from a guest rabbi and worship in the time it would normally take just to have lunch.

The program is offered, at no charge, every Wednesday and Thursday. Lunch begins at 12:45 P.M.; the D’Var Torah is at 1:15 P.M., followed by Mincha services at 1:30 P.M. Kosher lunch is provided by the Sandwich Club under CRC super- vision. Space is limited. Reservations are required and must be made at the Synagogue office the day before the program. Please contact the Synagogue office for more informa- tion. We encourage you to participate in this excellent program.

Shavuoth, The Feast of Weeks, falls this year on May 19th and May 20th. The holiday derives the name by which it is best known from the fact that it falls seven weeks (shavuoth in Hebrew) after Passover. In ancient Israel, these seven weeks had been the time for gathering in the grain harvest. At the conclusion of the harvest, on Shavuoth, a communal offering of two special loaves baked from the newly harvested grain was brought in the Temple. In addition to being the end of the grain harvest, Shavuoth is also called in the Bible “the day of the first fruits” (Numbers 28:26) and the “harvest feast” (Exodus 23:16).

The holiday is, then, a harvest thanksgiving festival; and this is why many homes and synagogues are decorated on Shavuoth with boughs, flowers, and green foliage. While many of the harvest thanksgiving aspects of the festival have been reintroduced in modern Israel, it is still the religious and historical associations of the holi- day which make it so important in the Jewish religious calendar. For according to tradition, Shavuoth is the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. In the siddur, it is referred to lovingly as zeman matan torosenu, the time of the giving of our Torah.

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Accordingly, the Torah reading for the first day of Shavuoth is the account of the giving of the Ten Commandments. The eleventh-century liturgical poem, Akdamut, is chanted to a special melody before the Torah reading begins. The excerpt which fol- lows indicates something of its spirit:

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Could we with ink the ocean fill, Were every blade of grass a quill, Were the world a parchment made And every man a scribe by trade, To write the love of God above Would drain that ocean dry; Nor would the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky!

Among the customs which have become associated with Shavuoth is that of spending all or part of the first night of the festival in the study of Torah. Very often, a special antholo- gy of representative selections of the Torah known as Tikkun Lel Shavuoth is recited. According to one mystic legend, on Shavuoth night the heavens open at midnight and receive with favor the prayers and studious meditations of those assembled to observe the night long vigil on the eve of the Festival of Revelation.

A more familiar custom is that of eating dairy foods on the holiday. A prosaic explanation of the custom is that Shavuoth is a late Spring festival and, in hot climates, light dairy dishes would be appropriate at this time of year. It has also been suggested that dairy products are eaten on Shavuoth because the Torah, which was given then, is compared in the Bible to milk and honey. Still others declare that since the dietary laws of the Torah were given on Shavuoth, the Jews were not yet able to prepare meat foods in compliance with them, and hence ate only dairy foods which were permitted.

These pleasant customs associated with Shavuoth help to make the holi- day more delightful. It is, however, the profound moral lesson of the need for man’s awareness of the Almighty’s gifts to him – spiritual as well as mate- rial – which make Shavuoth of basic importance in Judaism.

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