HOME SERVICE FOR THE FESTIVAL OF FIRST FRUITS / WEEKS
(HAG HA-BIKKURIM / SHAVU'OT)



Background

The Festival of First Fruits, or Weeks, was one of the three pilgrim festivals that we are obliged to celebrate as part of the Covenant made between Yahveh and Israel at Mount Horev (Sinai). The festival took place at the end of the wheat harvest, when people offered the first sheaf to God. In addition, a thank-offering of the first produce of every orchard, every field, as well as the first born that year of every kosher domestic animal, was also given up to God, since the first-fruits of every living thing belonged to God. A thank-offering was also given for non-kosher firstborn animals.

Strictly-speaking, the laws of Shavu'ot only apply to what is grown and produced in the land of Israel. However, we can still enjoy the symbolism of the festival, by giving of the first-fruits of our labours, our earnings, our creativity, our families, our pets, and so on, in a symbolic thank-offering to God.


Preparation:


*Lay the table with a clean, white table cloth. A small display of greenery can be arranged on the table if desired, to remind us of the original agricultural nature of the festival. If you have a garden with flowers, a display of those can also be made.


*Otherwise, the only requirements are for a basket or plate with two small loaves on the table.


*All dress in fresh, clean, smart clothing.


*If you are giving any money to charity, this will be put into the basket during the service.


*If you have grown anything edible yourself, or produced anything or made anything, have a representation of these things present to give thanks for them. If your firstborn child still lives with you, have him/her present to thank God for them. Also if any of your pets or domestic animals are firstborn, have them present too.

 

*A cold meal (eg cold meats and salad, or a suitable vegetarian meal) is eaten afterwards.

THE SERVICE

The leader says:

It is written in the Torah of YHVH our God, "Keep the Festival of Weeks with the first-fruits of your wheat harvest" (Ex 34:22a). It is also written, "On the Day of First-Fruits, when you present to YHVH an offering of new grain during the Festival of Weeks, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work"
(Nu 28:26).

The second reader says:

For the produce of the land, and for the produce of our lives, we give thanks to YHVH our God, for it is YHVH who has given us every blessing as a sign of God's covenant with us, as it is written: "And it shall be, that if you really do obey my precepts which I am commanding you today - to love YHVH your God, and to serve God with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will grant rain for your land in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, so that you may gather in your cereal crop, your new wine and your fresh oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.

(Deut. 11:13 - 16).

A basket with two loaves of bread is brought out, and placed in the centre of the table (if you have no basket, use a platter or a large plate).

The leader says:


We have this bread as a symbolic offering to God in thanksgiving for the blessings of the past year, as it is written:

 

"From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of first-fruits to YHVH"

(Lev 23:17).

 

It is also written:

"When you have entered the land that YHVH your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the first-fruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land that YHVH your God is giving you and put them in a basket"

(Deut 26:1-2).

All present say:

"We declare today to YHVH our God that we have come to bless God for the land that YHVH swore to our ancestors to give us."
(paraphrase of Deut 26:3b)

The second reader stands facing the east. Then that person takes the two loaves, one in each hand, and with reverence waves them three times (up and down) towards the place of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and then says:


YHVH is our God, and YHVH alone we bless.


(Replace the bread in the basket or plate).

Then all present say:


"My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labour. Then we cried out to YHVH, the God of our ancestors, and YHVH heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So YHVH brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. God brought us to [Canaan] and gave us [that] land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the first-fruits of the soil that you, O YHVH, have given me."

(paraphrase of Deut 26:5b-10a)

All bow slightly (to the east) in reverence and thanksgiving to God, then say:

"I will give thanks to YHVH because of God's righteousness and will sing praise to the name of YHVH Most High"

(Ps 7:17).

"I will praise you among the nations, O YHVH; I will sing praises to your name."

(Ps18:49).

"I will praise you, O YHVH, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches

                to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth."

(Ps 57:9-11).


Presenting the First-Fruits of our lives:

The leader says:


If I were in the land that you gave to our ancestors, and if the place of your holy Sanctuary still stood, then I would offer up to you all the first-fruits of the soil. I would give you the first produce of my orchards, and of my fields, and I would offer up the first-born of my herds and flocks.

The second reader says:


However, we are not in Israel. Nevertheless, you are mighty, O YHVH our God, and your sovereignty extends over all the earth, for all the earth is yours, and everything in it. We therefore offer you the first-fruits of everything you have ever given us in our lives, in thanks for the many blessings you have ever bestowed upon us.


The offerings

The leader says:


It is written, "Celebrate the Festival of Weeks to YHVH your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings YHVH your God has given you."

(Deut 16:10).

 

We therefore make these offerings in proportion to what God has given us.

Firstly, each one put an offering from your earnings in the basket, and each say:

"I give this for the poor, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan"

(Deut 26:13)

This is later given as tzedaqah to charity).

If you have any crops that you have grown yourself this year, or any firstborn kosher animals from this year, bring them forward, and say:

"I bring the best of the first-fruits of our soil to YHVH our God" (Ex 23:19)

If you have the firstborn of any non-kosher animals, or your firstborn son or daughter present, these are not offered, but say:

"For the firstborn that we do not offer, we still give thanks to YHVH for the blessing of life".

Next you recall and mention the best of what you have made, received or created during the year (if it is an object, and is not too cumbersome, you may place it in the basket). Everyone present should try to recall something to give thanks for.

Then all say:


We bless you and honour you, O YHVH our God, for the wondrous gift of creativity you have placed within our human souls. We offer here the best of the first-fruits of that gift.

Final declaration

All say:


"I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them. I have not eaten any of the sacred portion while I was in mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was ritually unfit, nor have I offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed YHVH my God; I have done everything you commanded me. Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey."
(Deut 26:13b-15)

The leader says:


"YHVH your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared this day that YHVH is your God and that you will walk in God's ways, that you will keep God's decrees, commands and laws, and that you will obey God. And YHVH has declared this day that you are God's people, God's treasured possession as God promised, and that you are to keep all God's commands. God has declared that God will set you in praise, fame and honour high above all the nations God has made and that you will be a people holy to YHVH your God, as God promised."

(Deut 26:16-19)

The meal

(Now all wash hands. Before drying the hands, one says in Hebrew then in English:


anu mevarkhim umeshavchim otkha YHVH elohéinu
asher bishkhinátkha qidáshta kol techum bechayéinu
afilu netilat vibush yadáyim

"We bless you and honour you, O YHVH our God,
for you sanctify every part of life by your Presence,
even the washing and drying of our hands."

The leader says:


Now that we have offered to God a proportion of our first-fruits, we can eat and enjoy the rest of our blessings from God.

A cold meal is now brought to the table and everyone serves themselves.


Blessing after the meal

Say in Hebrew then in English:


anu mevarkhim umeshavchim otkha YHVH elohéinu,
'al pri ha-adamah she-natat lánu

'al mah she-akhálnu
afilu she-lo shatálnu
o zará'nu
o qatzárnu
anu modim


"We bless you and honour you, O YHVH our God,
for all the many fruits of the earth which you have given us.
For what we have eaten,
even for what we have not planted,
or sown,
or harvested ourselves,
we give thanks. Amein."

 

   
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