In the past weeks when many of us have been on our feet, in manner that may evoke A.J Heschel’s famous “Praying with my feet” or a sense of “Aliya La’regel” – a Pilgrimage, a verse in this week’s portion of Mishpatim will no doubt resonate. 23:14; a short statement that is striking in its brevity and timing.
שָׁלֹ֣שׁ רְגָלִ֔ים תָּחֹ֥ג לִ֖י בַּשָּׁנָֽה׃
Three times a year you shall hold a festival for Me.
Of course the translation does not really capture the essence or purpose of these “festivals”. Regalim also means feet or legs, implying that on these occasions we need to make a journey. These festivals will be aptly termed “Foot Festival”, as among the core requirements is the calling to walk or march up to Jerusalem. But what are the occasions that prompt these excursions? The way they are described is intriguing;
Chag Hamatzot as the more familiar “Pesach” is termed, recalls the very recent events of the exodus from Egypt and as such the obligation to eat Matzot. Curiously the “date” when it occurs is termed Chodesh Ha’aviv, conjuring, as Rashi explains, the term באביה – Ba’aviah meaning ripe, referring to the grain at this time of year. We also understand this term meaning spring. Taking up this theme the next two “festivals” are depicted solely through their agricultural lens. There is no back story at all referring to what later become Shavuot and Sukkot, implying these stories may not be the reason for the pilgrimage, rather the core events in the life of the farmer. It is almost as if the celebrated declaration of “Na’aseh v’nishma”- we will do and listen, is being actualized. A commitment to do, to show up through action. Note how the next two festivals are relayed, 22:16;
וְחַ֤ג הַקָּצִיר֙ בִּכּוּרֵ֣י מַעֲשֶׂ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּזְרַ֖ע בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה וְחַ֤ג הָֽאָסִף֙ בְּצֵ֣את הַשָּׁנָ֔ה בּאסְפְּךָ֥ אֶֽת־מַעֲשֶׂ֖יךָ מִן־הַשָּׂדֶֽה׃
and the Feast of the Harvest, of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the field.
These are the occasions that prompt the pilgrimages to “see the Lord”, not stories as such, rather critical moments. Seasons become the reasons to celebrate. Joseph ben Isaac Bekhor Shor, a poet, scholar, and commentator of the Bible of twelfth century France, develops this remarkable insight, explaining how all of these occasions are those of unrivaled joy, and God wishes to “להתערב בשמחתכם” to “interfere”, to be integrally involved in your joy. Walking the walk, or perhaps dancing the dance with God in moments of the ordinary not just the extraordinary.