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Peninei Halakha > Festivals > 01 - Introduction > 15. The Mitzva of Making a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in Temple Times

15. The Mitzva of Making a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in Temple Times

As long as the Temple stood, there was a mitzva to travel there for the festivals: “Three times a year, all your males shall appear (yeira’eh, literally ‘will be seen’) before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel” (Shemot 34:23). The Torah also says: “Three times (shalosh regalim) a year, you shall hold a festival for Me” (Shemot 23:14). Because of this mitzva, the festivals are referred to as regalim, as people would travel to the Temple by foot (regel). Those who were unable to walk the distance from Jerusalem to the Temple Mount because they were old, sick, or lame were exempt. Others who were exempt from the mitzva were the blind, the deaf, and the mute, as their “appearance” before the Lord is incomplete. The uncircumcised and the impure are also exempt (Ḥagiga 4a-b; MT, Laws of Pilgrimage Offerings 2:1).

This commandment applies to men and not women, because it is a time-bound positive commandment from which women are exempt. This exemption enabled women, when necessary, to remain at home and take care of the children, the infirm, and the elderly. Nevertheless, if women were able to go and did so they fulfilled the mitzva. In practice, many women did go. If a child was able to walk the distance from Jerusalem to the Temple Mount, his father was obligated to take him along.

Since the men were commanded to make the pilgrimage, there was concern that enemies would come to pillage during the festivals. The Torah therefore promises that in the merit of the Jews connecting to God in the Temple they would inherit the land without fear of enemies: “I will drive out nations from your path and enlarge your territory; no one will covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times a year” (Shemot 34:24).

Three korbanot were required on the pilgrimage festivals: re’iya, ḥagiga, and simḥa (Ḥagiga 6b). First, the mitzva of re’iya involved appearing in the Temple courtyard with an olat re’iya (pilgrimage burnt offering), which was consumed in its entirety in the fire of the altar. If one came to the courtyard without an ola, not only did he negate a positive commandment, but he transgressed a negative commandment as well: “None shall appear before Me empty-handed” (Shemot 34:20).

Second, ḥagiga refers to the shalmei ḥagiga (pilgrimage peace offering), only the fat of which was offered on the altar. Some of the meat was given to the Kohanim, while the majority of it was eaten in purity by the pilgrim, his relatives, and their guests.

Third, the commandment of simḥa included the shalmei simḥa (festive peace offering), one or more animals as needed. The more relatives and guests there were, the more shalmei simḥa had to be offered. If one had a separate obligation to bring offerings – such as ma’aser behema (animal tithe) or korbanot neder u-nedava (offerings in which he obligated himself) – he fulfills the mitzva of simḥa by offering them and eating their meat (MT, op. cit. 1:1; 2:8-10).

Rambam writes (MT, op. cit. 2:14):

When a person offers the shalmei ḥagiga and shalmei simḥa, he should not eat on his own with just his wife and children present, telling himself that he is fulfilling the mitzva in the ideal way. Rather, he is obligated to make the forlorn and the poor happy, as we read: “the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow” (Devarim 16:14). He wines and dines them in accordance with his means. One who eats his offerings without including these others is roundly condemned: “Their sacrifices will be like mourners’ bread – all who eat of it will be impure – for their bread will be for themselves alone” (Hoshea 9:4). The mitzva of inviting is particularly relevant to the Levi’im. This is because they have no portion in the Land, and none of the tithes that are given them are meat.

Normally, the offerings of individuals are not brought on Yom Tov. Nevertheless, the three offerings described above – olat re’iya, shalmei ḥagiga, and shalmei simḥa – are brought then, since it is a mitzva to offer them on the first day of the festival. On Shabbat, though, these offerings are not brought. If one was unable to offer them on the first day, he may do so at any point during the festival. On Pesaḥ, he has until the seventh day; on Sukkot, until the end of Shemini Atzeret; and on Shavu’ot, until six days after the festival. After that, the mitzva has been lost (MT, op. cit. 2:4-8).

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Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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Editor: Nechama Unterman