Three Pilgrimage Festivals

August 29, 2011 | by

The Bible speaks about the entire Jewish nation going to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage festivals. Is that still practiced today?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

From a technical standpoint, it was only when the Temple was standing that people were required to appear three times annually and bring an offering – on Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot. (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 117:1; Nodeh BiYehuda O.C. 94; Chasam Sofer Y.D. 233; Yabia Omer O.C. 5:15; Tzitz Eliezer 10:1)

Nevertheless, citing the Midrash from Shir HaShirim, some opinions maintain that coming today to see the Temple Mount and the Western Wall still applies on the pilgrimage festivals (Ran – Ta’anit 7a; She'alat Ya'avetz 1:87; Yechaveh Daas 1:25; Teshuvah Kol Mevaser 2:10).

Whatever the case, today many tens of thousands of people make a point to come visit the site of the Temple and the Western Wall during the festival days. The Aish Center, whose spectacular rooftop terrace rises seven stories above the Western Wall Plaza, offers a particularly unique vantage point to fulfill this.

Your question also raises a unique aspect of pilgrimage that I think you'll enjoy:

Imagine we're a committee writing the Bible. If we made up a law that all the men in Israel are required to go to Jerusalem and visit the Temple, three times each year on the pilgrimage holidays, do you think it's a good idea?

On one hand, it unites the people. They get inspired to gather as a nation and see the priestly service in the Temple.

Why is it a bad idea?

If all the men are in Jerusalem, who's going to guard the land? What will happen when the enemies find out that no one is protecting the borders? It won't take long for them to figure out that three times a year the Jews leave themselves wide open to attack.

Of course, we could send the men in shifts, as opposed to all at once. But the Torah is very clear: "Three times each year, all your males shall present themselves before God, the Master and Lord of Israel" (Exodus 34:23).

And if one might think that is the making of a national tragedy, the very next verse promises: "[N]o one will be envious of your land when you go to be seen in God's presence" (Exodus 34:24).

In other words, don’t worry. God will make sure that no one will even think of attacking you! Who in their right mind would write this? The one thing the author of the Bible knows for sure is that he can't control the thoughts of their enemies, never mind the bullets!

Why take such an outlandish risk? Did the author actually expect the people to say, "Oh, that's a great idea; everybody'll just leave and we'll be unprotected. No problem." And even if by some fluke, the people swallow it, after the first pilgrimage or two, they're out of business, assuming they're still alive!

Which brings us to an astounding conclusion: Not only does this pilgrimage idea demonstrate that God has supernatural control, but simple psychology forces us to ask who else but God could write such a thing and expect people to accept it?

This is just another piece of evidence substantiating God as the Author of the Torah.

(based on Aish HaTorah’s Discovery Seminar)


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