Christians think of the ‘Day of Pentecost’ in terms of what happened in Acts Chapter 2 in the year of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) Ascension. Jews from everywhere heard the good news in their own languages and ‘tongues of fire’ came to rest on the heads of people. This is NOT however the first Pentecost. This holy day which gets its name from ’50th Day’ is actually the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is always 50 days after Passover. In Hebrew the ‘ot’ at the end of a word denotes the feminine plural, so Shavuot is the plural of shavuah or ‘week’. Sometimes in the the Bible in English this is referred to as the ‘feast of weeks’. The first Shavuot was at Mt. Sinai 50 days after the first Passover and on that day the Israelites heard the giving of the commandments. So Pentecost commemorates the giving of the ‘Torah’ to the Jewish people. In the oral tradition in Exodus Rabbah 5:9 Rabbi Yochanan said ‘When God’s voice came forth at Mt. Sinai, it divided itself into 70 human languages, so that the whole world might understand it’. Also we have a story of fire. “On the occasion of the giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel not only heard the LORD’s Voice, but actually saw the sound waves as they emerged from the LORD’s mouth. They visualized them as a fiery substance. Each commandment that left the LORD’s mouth traveled around the entire camp and then came back to every Jew individually.” This latter quote comes from ‘The Midrash Says, Shemot’ by Moshe Weissman.
Do you see this? Fire and every language being understood at the giving of the Torah at Sinai? On the first ‘Pentecost’? Is it any wonder that on the anniversary of this miracle we would see tongues of fire and multiple languages? The New Testament gets quickly deeper to us when we understand the Jewish background of its narratives. What else can you be missing by not knowing the Jewish Foundation of the Christian Faith?
Many thanks to D. Thomas Lancaster from FFOZ and Rabbi Itzhak Shapira for teaching me about this wonderful event called Shavuot.