See the sources for this article and more research in the Additional Reading section.
Beginning at sunset on May 28 until nightfall 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 G‑d 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% of the world’s population of 7 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 G-d gave the 10 Commandments to the Jews at Mt. Sinai. Since the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70, and the exile of the Jews from Israel began, observing Shavuot strengthened the spiritual awareness of Jews as to importance of the Torah, wherever they might be physically living.
The 10 Commandments became the basic laws behind the Torah (Old Testament). Approximately 1,300 years later, the Torah 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) and the 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% of the world’s population now lives in a democracy. The other 50% live under authoritarian rule in China, Russia, North Korea, Cuba, and most Muslim countries.
So why is Shavuot crucial to 100% of the world’s population?
It is crucial because the 50% who live under the rule of law in democracies are direct beneficiaries of the 10 Commandments and the Torah of early Judaism. It is also critical for the other 50% 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, an all-night study of the Torah, and feasting on dairy fare, as a symbol of their promised “land flowing with milk and honey,” (Exodus:3:8), namely the land Israel.