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From Parsha to Halakha: Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach

Aliyah l'regel: Between people and God

Nissan 5783 | April 2023

On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach we read about the aftermath of the Sin of the Golden Calf, from the end of Parshat Ki Tisa.[1] We begin with Moshe’s exhortations to God:

“If I have found favor in Your eyes, please let me know Your ways that I may know You so that I may find favor in Your eyes; and see that this nation is Your people… How will it be known that I and Your people have found favor in Your eyes if not, is it not if You are to walk with us, so that myself and Your people will be distinguished from all people that are on the face of the earth.”

God responds affirmatively, revealing some of the ways of the Lord to Moshe and giving him the tools to gain forgiveness for the people’s sin, re-establish the covenant between God and the people, and ensure the Divine Presence returns to dwell in their midst. After describing a miraculous settlement of the Land of Israel that is meant to follow, God warns the Israelites not to make a covenant with the nations of Canaan, serve their gods, eat of their sacrifices, or marry into their families. They must maintain these standards and continue their commitment to their exclusive covenant with God for God’s presence to dwell in their midst.

Aliya la’Regel: Pilgrimage festivals

The section shifts between descriptions of different aspects of relationships and revelations between God and Moshe and God and Israel. Imagery of eyes (ainayim), sight, and appearance (from the root r.a.h.) connect verses that seem disparate at first glance. The reading culminates in one of several Torah descriptions of the three pilgrimage festivals.[2]  Aspects of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot are mentioned along with the commandment “Three times a year all your males should be seen before (the face of) the Master, Lord, the God of Israel.”

The concept of being seen before the Lord is repeated three times in just five verses. Some of the verses that describe being “seen before the Lord” can also be read as “see the face of the Lord,” which can be interpreted as visiting the Divine Presence or as a revelation of God.[3] A braita in Chagiga teaches that those who are “seen” before the Lord must also “see.”

In verse 20 we are told, “You shall not be seen before Me empty[-handed].” Rambam lists three offerings required of olei regel (pilgrims).[4] One brings a korban re’iya when they appear before the Lord, an obligatory olah offering of a bird or domesticated animal (of cattle, sheep, goats) ideally brought on the first day of the festival. This is the offering that fulfills the above verse. In addition the Torah mentions a korban chagigah, a celebratory offering of shlamim that should also be brought at that time. As opposed to the olah which is completely burnt on the altar, the shlamim must be a larger domesticated animal as it is divided between the altar, the Kohanim, and the offerer – providing people with meat for the festival.

As the Torah states, only men are obligated in aliyah l’regel, therefore Rambam rules that only men are obligated to bring these first two offerings. But there are additional voluntary offerings that should be brought to fulfill the mitzvah to rejoice, v’samachta, as the verse in Devarim states , “You shall offer shelamim and eat them there and rejoice before the Lord your God.”[5] Both women and men are obligated in this mitzvah.[6]

The joy of connection

The gemara states that in the absence of the Temple and these offerings the only way to rejoice is with meat and wine. It goes on to qualify that this simcha is actually subjective, and so women should be given things that make them happy, suggesting fine jewelry or clothing, and children what makes them happy – nuts and treats (candy).[7]

One might think that we can no longer fulfill the biblical mitzvah to rejoice on the festival without these shelamim offerings, and that these substitutes are a rabbinic addition to retain some aspect of the original joy we had at the Temple. Rambam explains that this is not the case, rather the Torah mitzvah is to rejoice in an appropriate way – when there was a Temple that meant bringing shelamim, in the Temple’s absence we do the next best thing.[8]

The Torah commands us: “You shall rejoice (v’samachta) before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter and your male servant and your maidservant and the Levite in your gate and the stranger and the orphan and the widow in your midst – in the place that the Lord your God will choose to house His name there.”[9]

Rambam continues the Laws of Chagiga to explain that our rejoicing must be inclusive. One may not neglect those less fortunate than themselves as they eat and drink, they must feed widows, orphans, strangers, and the needy. A person who closes himself off from these people shows that they are not rejoicing in the festival, but rather in their full belly and physical pleasure. He continues that on Yom Tov one should balance the spiritual and physical – spending the morning in prayer and Torah study and the afternoon eating and drinking together.

Rav Soloveitchik explains that these are not disparate aspects of the festival, but both the spiritual and physical acts are an expression of rejoicing in the heart, which is a spiritual act. The true joy is that of “being joined with God.” The festivals offer us a unique opportunity to connect with God physically and spiritually in a way that is not possible during the year.

Bringing down barriers

The Temple Mount is the place where we present ourselves before God, we come “to be seen,” but we also have an opportunity “to see” – to experience a revelation of the Divine Presence. A place with such opportunity is sanctified and each person who enters the space must do so appropriately. It’s not enough to bring the necessary offerings, a person must be in a state of tahara, spiritual purity.

The laws of tahara demand a high level of awareness of one’s body and one’s surroundings. They reflect the idea that our physical actions and surroundings affect us on a spiritual level, and that in turn affects our surroundings. Awareness alone is insufficient, one also needs to know the laws, with all their details. In the late Second Temple period and beyond the sages referred to people who had the knowledge and dedication to keep these laws properly as chaveirim – friends or members. People without this knowledge were presumed to be negligent with these complex laws and termed am ha’aretz – people of the land, ignorant, riffraff.

In the Talmud there are laws to ensure that chaveirim take extra care around amei ha’aretz, who are not considered reliable to keep tahara properly. While there were times these laws were relaxed so the divide among the Jews would not be too pronounced, for the most part the laws maintained a certain distance. The mishna in the end of Chagiga discusses times one should not trust another to keep these laws, even if they say otherwise, going so far as to require the vessels of the Temple to undergo purification after the festivals, since they may have been touched by amei ha’aretz who were impure.

A chaver also wouldn’t trust an am ha’aretz to properly handle teruma and ma’aser. Meals with food from sacrifices or ma’aser sheini (tithed produce that must be eaten in Jerusalem) had to be eaten in a state of tahara. One would think that these laws would be more stringent at the time of the festivals, as Jerusalem filled with these foods and olei regel, most of whom were amei ha’aretz.

Yet the sages did not institute more divisive safeguards, nor did they relax their standards. Instead, they declared that all olei regel on the festivals are “promoted” to the status of chaveirim and assumed to observe these laws properly.[10] The Yerushalmi on the mishna quotes the verse “Jerusalem, built like a city that is joined (chubra) together” and explains that Jerusalem is a city that joins everyone as chaveirim, but only during the pilgrimage festivals, at times when “the tribes went up”.

The sages teach us that there are reasons to be careful, to be suspicious of those that don’t share our standards. But there are also times we must set aside those suspicions. When Jewish people from all over come together to celebrate we should not focus on what divides us but see each person as a chaver – a friend – someone that shares our core beliefs and values.

Jerusalem is both the spiritual and social capital of the Jewish people. It is a place where we come to connect to our Creator and with each other. If we do include Jews who are less fortunate or less observant or different, this division will impact our ability to connect to God as well. Every one of us is seen by God, and this is certainly enough of a reason to join together to “rejoice before the Lord, your God.”

[1] Shemot 33:12 – 34:26

[2] Shemot 34:23, 23:17, Devarim 16:17

[3] This idea is reflected in Bereishit 22:14, when Avraham calls Mount Moriah, the location of Akeidat Yitzchak (the binding of Isaac) and the future location of the Temple according to Jewish tradition: “’the Lord will see,’ of which is presently said as ‘On the mountain the Lord will be seen.’” See Rashi there.

[4] Hilkhot Chagiga 1:1-2

[5] Devarim 27:7

[6] The gemara and Rishonim explore why women are exempt from the mitzvah of re’iya and the accompanying offerings of re’iya and chagiga. Both the exemption and obligation are learned from Torah verses – the exemption from Shemot 34:23 quoted above that only mentions “males” and the obligation from Devarim 16:11, 14 Which mentions both “You shall rejoice (v’samachta) before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter and your male servant and your maidservant and the Levite in your gate and the stranger and the orphan and the widow in your midst – in the place that the Lord your God will choose to house His name there,” and “You shall rejoice in your festival (v’samachta b’chagecha) you and your son and your daughter…” with the same list of participants.

As both re’iya and simcha are positive time bound mitzvot we would expect women would either be exempt from both or required in both, but not a difference. Indeed the gemara (Kiddushin 34b) spends a bit of time understanding the split, even though it does not explain it.

Based on the statement there that “Abbaye said: For a woman – her husband bring her joy…” Ritva suggests that women may not be independently obligated to rejoice in the festival, but rather their husband is required to facilitate their rejoicing. However, this is not the standard application of the mitzvah and independent women are also considered obligated in simcha.
It’s possible to explain the dispensation as technical – a combination of both physical and socio-economic differences between men and women. Women would not travel as much in general; pregnancy, childbirth, and menstruation further complicated matters – both of travel and of tahara and ability to enter the Temple or eat of the offerings. Additionally, women at that time did not tend to own property, and so could not buy their own sacrifices. But since Rambam explains that simcha can be performed in other ways as well, women are not exempt. This might also explain the language Ritva relied upon for his explanation.

[7] TB Pesachim 109a, Tosefta Pesachim 10:4, Kiddushin 34b

[8] Hilkhot Shvitat Yom Tov 6:16-18

[9] Devarim 16:11

[10] Mishna Chagiga 3:6, TB ibid 26a

Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman

Debbie Zimmerman graduated from the first cohort of Hilkhata – Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute and is a Halakhic Responder. She is a multi-disciplinary Jewish educator, with over a decade of experience in adolescent and adult education. After completing a BA in Social Work, Debbie studied Tanakh in the Master’s Program for Bible in Matan and Talmud in Beit Morasha.