This evening at sunset begins the Jewish festival of Shavuot which commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah (the first five books of both the Hebrew and the Christian Bible) to the nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai.
The date of Shavuot is directly linked to that of Passover. On Passover, the nation of Israel were freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh; on Shavuot they were given the Torah and became a nation committed to serving God.
In the Bible, Shavuot is called the Festival of Weeks (referring to Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10); Festival of Reaping (from Exodus 23:16), and Day of the First Fruits (from Numbers 28:26). Since Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Hellenistic Jews gave it the name Pentecost (“fiftieth day”). This is the same name of the Christian Holiday which occurs fifty days after Easter.
Besides its significance as the day on which the Torah was revealed by God to the Israelite nation at Mount Sinai (which includes the Ten Commandments), Shavuot is also connected to the season of the grain harvest in Israel; it is the concluding festival of the grain harvest, just as the eighth day of Sukkot (Tabernacles) was the concluding festival of the fruit harvest. During the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, an offering of two loaves of bread from the wheat harvest was made on Shavuot.
Shavuot is unlike other Jewish holidays in that it has no prescribed mitzvot (reading of the Torah commandments.) It does have the traditional festival observances of abstention from work, special prayer services and holiday meals.