The names of the regalim (pilgrimage festivals) reflect the agricultural periods in which they take place. Thus we read: “Three times a year, you shall hold a festival for Me: You shall observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Pesaḥ)…at the set time in the month of Aviv (spring), for in it you went forth from Egypt…the Festival of the Harvest (Shavu’ot), of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field; and the Festival of Ingathering (Sukkot) at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the fields. Three times a year, all your males shall appear before the Sovereign, the Lord” (Shemot 23:14-17). Similarly, we read: “You shall observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread…at the set time of the month of Aviv, for in the month of Aviv you went forth from Egypt…. You shall observe the Festival of Weeks, of the first fruits of the wheat harvest; and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year” (Shemot 34:18-23).
It is appropriate for Pesaḥ to be in the spring, when everything begins to grow. Shavu’ot is referred to as the Festival of the Harvest because the harvest of wheat, which provides man with his main sustenance, is completed then. Sukkot is called the Festival of Ingathering because this is when all of the year’s crops are gathered and brought home. At these times, people are naturally happy. In the spring, we are happy because of the rejuvenation of the crops after the bleak winter. During the harvest, we are happy because of the abundance of blessing in the crops. During the ingathering, we are happy because of the variety of good fruit which we have been privileged to gather. We were commanded to uplift and sanctify these naturally joyful feelings through the mitzvot of the festivals.
These natural processes reflect the spiritual processes which take place in the supernal worlds. Pesaḥ is a time of beginning and renewal; therefore we left Egypt then and became a nation. Shavu’ot is a time when the growth process reaches maturity; therefore we received the Torah then (below 13:1-4). Sukkot is a time of joyful celebration of bounty, at the culmination of the year’s agricultural endeavors, so we express our great joy for the Divine Presence resting upon us and for all the positive things which result from our living under God’s protection.
In other words, each festival represents the conclusion of a stage that we experience in both the natural and spiritual worlds. Pesaḥ concludes spring’s arrival after the dormancy of the winter, and is also the time of Exodus from Egypt. Shavu’ot concludes the first stage of growth. It is the time of both harvesting and the giving of the Torah. Sukkot concludes all the stages: we gather in the physical fruit as well as the spiritual fruit which give expression to the close relationship between the Jews and God. In order to link both the natural agricultural processes and the corresponding spiritual processes to the source of holiness, we were commanded to travel to the Temple on these three festivals, offer sacrifices, and rejoice before God.
The festivals are also judgment days. The Mishna tells us that there are four times of the year when the world is judged. On Pesaḥ, judgment is passed on grain, determining how much will grow until Shavu’ot. On Shavu’ot, judgment is passed on fruit, determining how much will grow during the summer. On Sukkot, judgment is passed on water, determining how much rain Eretz Yisrael will receive in the winter. On Rosh Ha-shana, all people are judged (RH 16a). If we observe the festivals properly, we will be judged favorably. By commanding us to observe the festivals, God has given us an opportunity to connect with Him in each season joyfully and thankfully, thus ensuring blessing for the next season as well.