In my first essay on Shavuot, I pointed out that the Hebrew name “Shavuot” means “weeks” and that the command to observe it as a holiday is in Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:9, 10, and 16; and Leviticus 23:15 and 16, where the Bible tells the Israelites to count seven full weeks after the Sabbath and states that the fiftieth day is Shavuot when a prescribed sacrifice was to be brought.

I explained that contrary to the widespread notion that the biblical Shavuot commemorates the day or season when the Torah or Decalogue (commonly called The Ten Commandments, even though it contains more than ten), the holiday is based on the fact that seven is an essential number in Judaism. The Bible begins with the story of creation: God created the world in six days and ceased creation (rested) on the seventh. Jews are instructed to observe the seventh day as Shabbat. Among other things, Shabbat reminds the Jew of God, that God created the world, and gave people certain laws.

The number seven reoccurs often in Jewish holidays and practices to emphasize this vital lesson. Seven is used for days (the Sabbath), months (the holiday of Rosh Hashana occurs at the outset of the seventh month), years (the seventh year is the Sabbatical Year), Sabbatical Years (the fiftieth year is the Jubilee Year). What is missing in this constant reminder of the primary teaching is weeks. This was and is the purpose of Shavuot, a word meaning “weeks,” because the counting of seven weeks recalls the message of seven, that there is a God who created the world and gave commands.

It’s a historical fact that the notion of Shavuot commemorating the giving of the Torah or Decalogue was not associated with the holiday until long after the Torah was completed. This misunderstanding is not limited to the general public, but even esteemed figures like Rabbi Judah Loew, known as Maharal of Prague (1525-1609), fell into this misconception. He taught that the Israelites were commanded to count 49 days, not the full and rounded number of 50 days, to teach them that people cannot reach perfection.

While it’s important to acknowledge the teachings of religious leaders, it’s also crucial to critically examine their perspectives. In the case of Rabbi Judah Loew, his teaching about people’s imperfection is a negative approach that doesn’t grasp the true purpose of the holiday. One could argue the opposite, that Shavuot is celebrated on the fiftieth day to teach that people can obtain what they strive for if they work for it, with the work symbolized in the daily counting that leads to the holiday.

Contrary to Maharal, Shavuot’s revised, non-biblical purpose focuses not on the number seven but on the value of the Torah. On Shavuot, Jews are reminded that the Torah is a sacred, helpful document that can help people be all they can be. Studying the Torah is tedious and time-consuming, like counting days, but Torah students are rewarded with the improvements it gives them, society, and all of creation. If something is easy, it is probably wrong.