Day One of Shavuot

Exodus 19:1-20:23; Numbers 28:26-31

General Overview: The Israelites experience the Divine revelation at Mount Sinai and hear the Ten Commandments. The day's reading, which relates that which transpired on this very date millennia ago, also describes the preparations for, and aftermath of, this historic event.

First Aliyah: Six weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites arrived in the Sinai Desert and encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses ascended the mountain where G‑d gave him a message to transmit to the people. Included in this message was G‑d's designation of the Israelites as "His treasure out of all peoples" and a "kingdom of princes and a holy nation."

Second Aliyah: Moses conveyed to the people G‑d's words, who, in turn, accepted upon themselves to do all that G‑d commands of them. G‑d then instructed Moses to have the Israelites prepare themselves, because in three days' time He would reveal Himself atop the mountain to the entire nation. The Israelites were commanded to sanctify themselves and were warned not to approach the mountain until after the divine revelation.

Third Aliyah: On the morning of the third day, thunder, lightning, a thick cloud and the piercing sound of a shofar emanated from the mountaintop. Mt. Sinai was smoking and trembling, while the sound of the shofar grew steadily louder. Moses escorted the shuddering and frightened nation to the mountain, and settled them at its base.

(During the course of the fourth aliyah, the congregation rises to their feet and remains standing while the reader reads the Ten Commandments.)

Fourth Aliyah: G‑d descended upon the mountain, and summoned Moses to its summit. G‑d instructed Moses to again warn the Israelites about the tragic end that awaited anyone who approaches the mountain itself. Only Moses and his brother Aaron were allowed on the mountain during this time. G‑d then spoke the Ten Commandments to the Israelite nation. They are: 1) Belief in G‑d. 2) Not to worship idols. 3) Not to take G‑d's name in vain. 4) To keep the Shabbat. 5) To honor parents. 6) Not to murder, 7) commit adultery, 8) steal, 9) bear false witness or 10) covet another's property.

Fifth Aliyah: The Israelites were left traumatized by the overwhelming revelation, the awesome "light and sound" show. They turned to Moses and asked that from thereon he serve as an intermediary between them and G‑d—Moses should hear G‑d's word and transmit it to the people. Moses agreed. The reading concludes with a prohibition against creating idolatrous graven images – considering that no image was seen when G‑d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai – and the commandment to erect a sacrificial altar. The altar stones should not be hewn with iron implements, nor should there be steps leading to the top of the altar.

Maftir: The Maftir reading (from Numbers 28) details the various sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple on the holiday of Shavuot, along with the accompanying wine libations, oil and meal offerings.

Day Two of Shavuot

Deuteronomy 15:19-16:17; Numbers 28:26-31

General Overview: The day's reading discusses the three biblical festivals – Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot – some of the laws regarding each of these individual festivals, and the commanded to rejoice and be present in the Holy Temple during these holidays.

First Aliyah: All male firstborn of kosher cattle must be consecrated and given to the Kohen to eat. If the animal is unblemished it is first offered as a sacrifice in the Temple. If it is blemished, then it is also given to the Kohen, but he eats it without sacrificing it in the Temple.

Second Aliyah: We read about the holiday of Passover. We must ensure that the holiday always falls during springtime, and we must offer the Paschal Lamb on the proper day. We are commanded to eat matzah, and not leaven, for seven days.

Third Aliyah: The prohibition against leaven extends to ownership too—it is forbidden to possess anything leavened for the duration of the holiday. We may not offer the Paschal Lamb in any location other than "where G‑d chooses to dwell His Name" (i.e. the Holy Temple).

Fourth Aliyah: We now shift our attention to the holiday of Shavuot, "Weeks"; so called because it is celebrated seven weeks after the first harvesting of grain. We are enjoined to rejoice on this festival along with "your son, your daughter, your manservant and maidservant; the Levite who is within your cities, and the stranger, the orphan, and the widow..."

Fifth Aliyah: The final festival is the seven-day holiday of Sukkot, celebrated in the autumn, while we gather in the harvests from the fields. During this holiday we are commanded to be "only happy," thankful to G‑d for all His beneficence. The reading concludes with the mitzvah for every male to make a pilgrimage to the Temple thrice yearly, in honor of these three holidays. And no one shall appear before G‑d empty-handed—everyone is required to bring sacrifices according to his means.

Maftir: The Maftir reading (from Numbers 28) details the various sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple on the holiday of Shavuot, along with the accompanying wine libations, oil and meal offerings.

Note: A longer reading is read if the second day of Shavuot falls on Shabbat, as the reading is then divided into seven aliyot (sections) instead of five. In such an instance, the reading begins from Deuteronomy 14:22, and the following two sections are added before continuing on to the day's regular reading:

First Aliyah: After giving a tenth of one's crops to the Levite, a tenth of the remainder – the "Second Tithe" – is taken and eaten within the confines of Jerusalem. Provision is made for people who live far away from Jerusalem for whom it would be unfeasible to transport so much produce. Instead they may exchange the produce for money which is then taken to Jerusalem and spent on food. There is a three-year tithing cycle. After the conclusion of each cycle, we are commanded to purge our homes of any overdue tithes, give them to their intended recipients, and recite a brief prayer.

Second Aliyah: Moses commands the Israelites to designate every seventh year as a Shmitah (Sabbatical) Year. During this year, creditors must forgive outstanding loans. The section then discusses the obligation to give charity to the poor with a happy heart, and to lend them money if necessary, even if the Shmitah Year is looming. A Jewish slave must be freed after six years of service and must be given generous severance gifts as he departs.