Aliya L’Regel: Are You Kidding Me?!
Based on Parasha U’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
by Braha Bender
You know the expression “you had to be there”? Well, you had to be there. Otherwise it sounds like a joke. Three times a year, the entire adult male population of the Jewish People were commanded to leave their wives, children, and property to visit the beis hamikdash (temple) in Jerusalem.
Now, it’s easy to picture this event as some sort of idyllic biblical fraternity reunion with a kind of ancient, mystical, Torah observant swing. You know, the typical macho, “C’mon, son. You grab the livestock for our offering and I’ll grab the hiking gear and tent. This is gonna be great!”
But really now. Let’s be honest here. If it were you living unprotected in the Middle East circa 300 BCE, surrounded by ravaging Canaanite nations just waiting for the opportunity to seize your hard-working farm and enslave your wife, would you really be all that excited to simply abandon them for a three-week jaunt through the wilderness every Sukkos, Pesach, and Shavuos? Most people would exclaim, “You must be kidding!”
But the thing is that they didn’t. When Moshe (Moses) stood before the Jewish People to announce, and I quote, “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord Hashem, the G-d of Israel” (Shmos-Exodus 34:23), nobody laughed. They weren’t throwing tomatoes.
In fact, I can only assume everybody was standing around nodding their heads thoughtfully, stroking their beards, and enjoying the pleasure of being in Moshe’s lofty presence. Leave home for a journey of several weeks three times a year? No military protection, no way to physically ensure that we’ll come back to find our kids alive, let alone happily skipping down the lane to greet us? Absolute national vulnerability regularly planned and predictable to any nation that happens to feel like invading Israel? Sure. No problem.
I know, strange, right? But I can only assume that was the response because the fact is that they did it. Josephus says they did. The Roman Census says they did. The Torah says they did. The prophets said they did. The Talmud says they did.
Why weren’t they throwing tomatoes? “For I will banish nations before you and broaden your boundary; no man will covet your land when you go up to appear before Hashem, your G-d, three times a year.” (ibid 24) Basically, G-d was promising a miracle. It’s like the classic Jewish mother-in-law line, “Bubbaleh, just come. I’ll take care of everything.” And He really did.
There is no claim or evidence that war broke out during any of the years that the Jews were fulfilling this mitzvah, called aliyah l’regel. No nation says they did. We don’t say they did. It all took place a very long time ago, but when you look back and put together all the pieces, it forms a very unlikely picture. Nobody attacked during the holidays when we were coming close to the Almighty at the beis hamikdash.
Only G-d could make a promise like that because only G-d could fulfill it. There it is in black and white. The Torah tells the truth. We hold in our hands the genuine article. No joke.