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Only the Landowners

Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35 )

by Rabbi Yissocher Frand

No one shall covet your land when you go up to be seen before the God your Lord three times a year. (Shemos 34:23)

Three times a year, all Jewish males are required to fulfill the mitzvah of aliyah laregel by going to the Beis Hamikdash in Yerushalayim and celebrating the festivals "before the Master, God, the Lord of Israel." But who is going to keep an eye on the farm while everyone is away? No one. The Torah assures us (Shemos 34:24) that it will not be necessary, because "no one shall covet your land when you go up to be seen before the God your Lord three times a year."

This is quite a strong promise, and it is obviously meant to allay the fear of the more hesitant souls. It does not seem to be central to the mitzvah of aliyah laregel. And yet, the Talmud derives (Pesachim 8b) from this verse that only landowners are required to make the pilgrimage to Yerushalayim. Landless people, to whom the promise of "no one shall covet your land" cannot be applied, are not required to go.

Why should someone be deprived of "being seen by God your Lord" just because he doesn't own any real estate? Is this fair? What is the connection between going up three times a year and owning land?

We also find here a Name of Hashem - Adon, the Master - that rarely appears in the Torah - only twice, here and in Parashas Mishpatim (Shemos 23:17), both regarding to the mitzvah of aliyah laregel. What does this signify?

Sforno in Parashas Mishpatim points out that the title Adon, the Master, is used to indicate that Hashem is the Master of the Land. In this light, perhaps we can see the mitzvah of aliyah laregel from a new perspective. The essence of the mitzvah is not only to celebrate the festivals in Yerushalayim in the Beis Hamikdash, which is indeed a wonderful thing. On a deeper level, however, the mitzvah impresses on each of us that the whole world belongs to Hashem and not to me. I can leave my house and my farm and my property unattended, and I don't have to worry about it. Why? Because essentially it is not mine. Hashem promises that "no one shall covet the land" and I will be able to return and pick up the thread of my life. And I can be very calm about it, because it is not really my land after all is said and done. It all belongs to Hashem.

If so, we can well understand why a landless person is exempt from the mitzvah. He can certainly go to Yerushalayim and celebrate if he wishes, but the mitzvah of aliyah laregel does not include him since he has no land anyway, and the critical message of the mitzvah does not apply to him.

The Kotzker Rebbe offers a different answer to this question. Why is a landless person exempt from the mitzvah of aliyah laregel? Because he doesn't need it.

Only the landowner, whose vision is blurred by materialism, needs to go up to Yerushalayim to see the Shechinah. The landless person, the poor man who lacks material things and whose vision materialism has not blurred, does not need to go to Yerushalayim to see the Shechinah. He sees It everywhere.

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