Florists in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world will be busy next week in the run-up to Shavuot. Why do we celebrate the festival of receiving of the Torah and of bringing the first fruits (bikkurim) to the Temple by decorating synagogues with flowers?
The Midrash describes Sinai as bursting into flower when the Torah was given. Nature rejoiced along with Israel. Basking in botanic beauty is also a reminder of the bikkurim, the offering of first fruits that were brought around this time of the year.
Although the custom has been related to ancient sources, Rabbi Shmuel Hertzberg points out that the earliest reference to this practice is the 15th-century German rabbi Maharil. The 18th-century Gaon of Vilna, however, banned flowers in the sanctuary as it reminded him of Christian services.