Aliyah L’Regel: Trusting Time, and Faith to Follow

This D’var Torah is based off of an idea published in the hot-off-the-press “Al Harishonim: Shabbos & Moadim” by Rav Aryeh Brueckheimer

In the context of the parsha of the Mo’adim in Parshat Mishpatim, the chagim are related to their location in the agricultural cycle of the year- Pesach is “chag ha’aviv,” Shavuot isn’t even named explicitly, only designated “chag hakatzir, the festival of the harvesting,” and Sukkot is called “chag ha’asif, the festival of the gathering.” Those of keeping score at home have an understanding of the meaning behind each of our chagim, how each is a way to remember miracles and become closer to Hashem through our past- for us, it should seem odd that our chagim are effectively being enumerated as functions of the farmer’s yearly schedule, rather than their true and deeper meaning. Furthermore, given that this is Am Yisrael’s first introduction to the shalosh regalim as they were freshly out of Egypt, it’s especially odd that the mo’adei Hashem are effectively likened to Native American-esque festivals. Wouldn’t it have been more prudent for the Jewish People (Shepherds,who had spent hundreds of years in Egypt as construction slaves and had no firsthand experience with farming, or even a basic understanding of what farming would entail) to first learn the historical basis for the chagim, rather than how they “fall out” into a farming schedule they’re not even yet familiar with? What’s going on here?

Rashbam, in his commentary on Chumash, presents a simple but beautiful answer. When the passuk teaches the mitzva of עליה לרגל at the times of the aviv, katzir, asif, it is commanding us in no small task- these are perhaps the three most vulnerable times for a field to be left alone, virtually defenseless as its owners get up and leave it by itself for at least two weeks. Any gentile (or even, G-d forbid, a fellow Jew) with the knowledge that an entire country’s fields or gathered food stores would be unlocked and undefended, is an invitation for six to eight months of hard work to go down the drain over the course of one easy robbery. Commanding all of Am Yisrael to come to Jerusalem at this delicate crossroads was indeed asking a lot from them and required quite a lot of emunah.

However, as Hashem promises later, this emunah does not go unrequited- “ולא יחמוד איש את ארצך,” (Shemot לד:כד), no one will take your fields in your absence (or even desire them, according to the literal translation of the passuk), G-d tells the Jewish people. In the merit of the leap of faith required to leave all of their precious crops undefended, and of the resulting unity as an entire nation gathers at the Bet Hamikdash, Hashem promises the miraculous- that the olei regel will return home and find their belongings untouched, their sustenance all but guaranteed for the coming winter. While going up to Jerusalem and celebrating the shalosh regalim in the Bet Hamikdash must have been a tremendously uplifting experience, Rashbam teaches that perhaps the strongest point of aliyah regel was the first step, leaving their homes undefended and relying solely on Hashem’s word to keep their livelihood safe, thus strengthening their faith in G-d before even entering His city of Jerusalem.

In our times, “מפני חטאנו גלינו מארצינו… ואין אנחנו יכולים לעלות… ולהשתחוות לפניך,” we have been exiled, our Temple destroyed, and we no longer have the ability to leave our land in Hashem’s hands while we do aliyah l’regel. However, the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash notwithstanding, it is clear that we cannot understand the above tefilah from Mussaf in the same way that Jewry of the late nineteenth century did. We no longer can fulfill the mitzva of bringing the עולה ראיה and offering portions of our best crops and animals on the mizbeach. However, this certainly does not mean that we cannot aliyah l’regel, nor does it imply that we cannot connect to Hashem through the emunah of aliyah l’regel– the concept just needs to be adjusted slightly to fit a world with locks and alarm systems, and a society whose main source of livelihood is no longer agriculture and livestock. As we prepare to celebrate Chag Ha’asif tonight, how can we use our contemporary conviction to elevate our Shavuot?

In order to answer this, let us examine a very important theme of our chag. Shavuot is chiefly known as z’man matan torateinu, when we celebrate receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai- special recognition is given to the unity experienced at that time, as Am Yisrael stood at Har Sinai “כאיש אחד בלב אחד”- a level of achdut which has perhaps not been experienced since. However, a thorough look through the written and oral Torah will yield that the exact location of Matan Torah is unknown. Chazal famously explain that this may be because, though Har Sinai did temporarily attain a level of holiness for the purposes of receiving the Torah, this was temporary and expired shortly after Matan Torah was finished. Shavuot, like Pesach and Sukkot, are times for Am Yisrael to undergo their tri-annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem- there was a concern that certain misguided Jews would instead travel to Mt. Sinai to celebrate Shavuot, missing out on the all-important mitzva of aliyah l’regel. In order to protect the our brethren from making this mistake, the location of Har Sinai was a close-kept secret which has since been lost forever, demonstrating to us how important having all of Am Yisrael in Jerusalem, כאיש אחד בלב אחד, is.

I believe that this is exactly how we, in the absence of a Bet Hamikdash, and without the livelihood concerns of thousands of years ago, can connect to the emunah of aliyah l’regel. Our challenge isn’t to leave our crops behind undefended, and travel to Jerusalem for a few weeks- it’s to take advantage of our reunited Jerusalem, and to encamp with our brethren in Israel, “כאיש אחד בלב אחד.” It’s to put our livelihood in Hashem’s hands, and leave our “fields” behind, knowing that Hashem will provide for us in Eretz Yisrael. It’s to follow the examples of Rut, Boaz, and the Jewish People who had just left Egypt, and to know that our place to live is in Eretz Yisrael, and that Shavuot is a time to be celebrated in Jerusalem, our eternal capital.