What Unitarian Universalists can learn from the tradition of Shavuot


Yesterday and today marks the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. I  was reminded of this when I was speaking to an old colleague of mine at the 92nd Street Y. This holiday, coming about 40 days after Passover,  marks the return of Moses from Mt. Sinai with the Torah. It is one of the two major holidays– Simchat Torah being the other one- that specifically relate to Torah itself. (Torah study and commentary being a constant feature of Jewish liturgical life and spiritual identity).  Shavuot is celebrated with  dairy products, all-night study, and the prohibition not to work- amongst other things.

An article in the Huffington Post gives an excellent chant to sing as part of Shavuout that, simple and elegant, is usable in other contexts.

From Earth we receive

To the one we give

Together we share

And from this we live


There is another version here

From thee I receive

to thee I give

Together we share

and from this we live..


According to Wikipedia, “first fruits” were offered at this festival when the temple existed in Jerusalem, which makes their agricultural calendar different then ours- I think of apples in the fall, and blueberries in August here on the East coast of North America.

The custom of study combined with the custom (not mandate!) to eat dairy products like cheese blitzes, cheese cake,  and the like, is, in fact, a mental and a spiritual feast. Today, thousands of year later, the celebration of Torah study is, in effect, a remembrance of the first fruits in another way- it  is precious spiritual food.  Further time off for Torah study is a fitting reminder of what nourishes many Jews around the world.

In our Unitarian Universalist communities today, what would we consider our “spiritual food” or our “first harvests”?  If we were to take time to celebrate the “milk and honey” of the liberal faith by studying and not  engaging in worship,  what would we do?

Would it be Emerson, would it be Margaret Fuller, would it be historians like Mark-Morrison-Reed? Or would it be social action?

Perhaps we don’t need a strict cannon for this exercise.  Or do we?  Would a “cannon”  for a day help us to unify our congregations, and serve a common purpose?  A day off for study- or more exactly- resting and taking pleasure in study-  may help us to find, as the song says, that “from which we live” in a new way.  I invite your comments!



Please note: I am looking at getting an audio recording of this song and others embedded in my blog.  It will likely be no frills of me chanting. Stay tuned!





Published by Valerie Freseman

Valerie Freseman is a Unitarian Universalist minister and a 2014 graduate of Union Theological Seminary. She completed a chaplain residency at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, CT, and served as the first year-long Killam Ministerial intern at the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland. She is passionate about spinning the inter-dependent web, creating a more just world, and applying the arts to faith.  She is also becoming increasingly well-known for her sock collection.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: