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The word shavuos is often translated as meaning “weeks.” The name is due to the fact that the holiday falls on the day when we conclude our counting of the seven weeks of the Omer. (For an explanation of the Counting of the Omer, please see articles under that heading in the section on Holidays.)
An additional interpretation of the word shavuos relates it to the word for an oath or a vow: shevuah, or, in the plural, shevuos. What is the connection between this festival, which marks the Revelation at Sinai which accompanied the giving of the Torah, and vows?
Our Sages explain that as the Jewish People stood at Sinai and experienced the revelation of G-d's presence and might, they vowed that they would never serve any other god or idol, throughout all their generations. It was so clear to them that this was the sole power that created and maintains the universe, that they had no hesitations whatsoever about making such a vow with sincere, inner commitment.
So convinced were they by what they experienced there at the foot of the mountain that they undertook this commitment both for themselves and for their children after them. Never would they entertain the thought of straying after false gods, with their glitter and promises of success and contentment. The evidence was so clearly manifest to them, that they were prepared to make such a vow, fully aware that this was a permanent commitment from which they would not be allowed to withdraw at a later date.
They also declared that they would relate their experiences at Sinai to their children and children's children, and instruct them to do likewise, so that this absolute faith and oath of loyalty to the Creator and His Torah would continue for all generations to come.
From here we learn that not only the generation of the Exodus was capable of undertaking such an oath of fealty, but also, our generation, as their descendants, renew our commitment each year on the Festival of Shavuos. Thus the holiday of Shavuos is not a commemoration of one, single oath taken in the past; rather, it is an opportunity for each of us to renew our oath of fealty to our Creator and His Torah. We celebrate not Chag Hashevuah, the Festival of the Oath, in the singular, but Chag Hashavuos, the Festival of the Oaths, in the plural, to include the renewed oath of each living Jew in every generation.
The word shavuos is plural in another sense, as well. In addition to the oath taken by the Jewish People, also G-d took an oath at Sinai, when He swore that He would never exchange His chosen nation, Israel, for another.
G-d has certainly lived up to His end of the bargain.
But how well have we done?
Indeed, throughout their history of persecution and exile, the Jewish People kept their promise of unswerving loyalty. In the tractate of Gittin (57b), the Talmud relates the heroism of Hannah, a widow who was summoned before the gentile ruler and ordered to bow down to his idol, on pain of death. When she refused, each of her seven sons was similarly challenged; each in turn refused to tarnish his soul with idolatry, even at the price of sacrificing his life in this world. One of the sons, when asked whether he had also decided to give up his life for his faith, answered:
"In the Torah it is written: You have sworn this day that the L-rd shall be your G-d, and that you will walk in His ways, and keep His statutes, and His commandments, and His ordinances, and hearken unto His voice. And the L-rd has avouched you this day to be His own treasure, as He hath promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments.”
"We promised the Holy One, Blessed Be He, that we will never exchange Him for any other god," the child told the pagan tyrant, "and He, too, has promised us that He will never exchange us for a different nation."
Even though he was yet so young, this child was fully cognizant of his personal bond with his Creator, and his vow which bound him to serve Him, and Him alone, even at the cost of his life in this world.
Perhaps this is the reason for the redoubled joy of the Giving of the Torah, when “the upper spheres exalted, and the lower spheres rejoiced.” The Heavenly spheres exalted because, on this day, the Jewish People drew near to the Holy One; the people of Israel, on their part, rejoiced that they were that much closer to their Creator.
Just as on the sixth of Sivan, over three thousand years ago, the Jewish People stood at Sinai and aroused G-d's love for them, so, too, can we today bring Heaven's love and blessings on our nation, that He remember us, and guard us, and shower us with His bounty.