Am Yisrael’s development and Shalosh Regalim
Rav Moshe Davis
In memory of her brother, Aron Asher Goldman z”l
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Am Yisrael’s development and Shalosh Regalim
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״אֶת חַג הַמַּצּוֹת תִּשְׁמֹר שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תֹּאכַל מַצּוֹת כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ לְמוֹעֵד חֹדֶשׁ הָאָבִיב כִּי בוֹ יָצָאתָ מִמִּצְרָיִם וְלֹא יֵרָאוּ פָנַי רֵיקָם. וְחַג הַקָּצִיר בִּכּוּרֵי מַעֲשֶׂיךָ אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע בַּשָּׂדֶה וְחַג הָאָסִף בְּצֵאת הַשָּׁנָה
בְּאָסְפְּךָ אֶת מַעֲשֶׂיךָ מִן הַשָּׂדֶה" (שמות כג,טו)
You shall observe the festival of matzot; for seven days you shall eat matza as I have commanded you, at the appointed time of the month of springtime, for then you left Egypt, and they shall not appear before Me empty handed. And the festival of the harvest, the first fruits of your labors, which you will sow in the field, and the festival of the ingathering at the departure of the year, when you gather in (the products of) your labors from the field.
[Shemot (Exodus) 23:15-16]
In these pesukim (verses), the Torah defines the shalosh regalim, Pesaḥ, Shavuot and Sukkot. The Torah refers to Pesaḥ as “the festival of matzot,” but adds that it must be celebrated in “the month of spring.” Shavuot is designated as “the festival of the harvest,” while Sukkot is called “the festival of the ingathering,” whose time is “at the departure of the year,” the end of the agricultural cycle.
At first glance, there is no clear substantive connection between the festivals and the seasons in which they fall. Apparently, the Torah mentions the seasons merely as an indication that the festivals have arrived. However, attention to the Torah’s choice of words negates this understanding. Two of the three festivals are explicitly named for the seasons in which they fall, indicating that the timing is of great significance in the essence of the festivals, and the connection with the seasons is not merely a side-issue. Furthermore, even concerning Pesaḥ, though the Torah names it “the festival of matzot,” it also stresses the holiday’s connection to the season, “the month of springtime,” without mention of a specific date. Had the Torah intended merely to indicate the season of Pesaḥ, it should have noted the date, as it does in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:5-6.
We must conclude that the mention of the spring season in connection with Pesaḥ teaches the significance of the festival, as we shall explain.
The Joy of the Produce of the Land
Ramban offers an explanation of the connection between the shalosh regalim and the seasons. The three festivals are times of rejoicing, during which the farmer (in Biblical times, more than ninety percent of Am Yisrael’s (the Nation of Israel’s) population was engaged in agriculture) sees the results of his labors and his heart expands with the bounty God has provided. Thus, God established the times of spring, of the harvest and of the ingathering as festivals to express joy and appreciation to God. In accordance with Ramban’s comment, the completion of the various stages of the annual agricultural cycle is the reason to rejoice at these times. However, this explanation requires expansion. The Torah itself makes it clear that the shalosh regalim are intended as reminders of historic events which took place during Am Yisrael’s exodus from Egypt and its journeys through the wilderness. Thus, we must understand that Ramban does not restrict the shalosh regalim to the agricultural cycle, rather his intention is that since the farmer naturally experiences the various stages as times of joy, the Torah instructed the Israelites to set these times as appointed times of sanctity to offer thanks for what God has given us. God’s will is that we elevate these times from the simple level of appreciation for the tangible goodness He has provided to the level of spiritual rejoicing and an exalted level of sanctity, through connecting to the special qualities of these days.
The Torah teaches that at times of rejoicing and peace of mind, it is appropriate to channel the rejoicing into spiritual elevation and to use rejoicing to reach a deeper connection to God.
Stages in the Development of the Am Yisrael
Maharal of Prague [Gevurot haShem, chapter 46] suggests a novel explanation of the connection between the shalosh regalim and the seasons of the year.
Pesaḥ, the first of the regalim, falls during springtime, which is the period during which most agricultural products blossom and bring forth their fruit. Following the prolonged hiatus of winter, during which grain was absorbed into the ground, fed by rain water and gradually developed, as spring arrives, the results of the entire year’s work becomes evident.
Shavuot, the second of the festivals, is the time of harvesting. After the produce came into the world during the spring, it undergoes a process of continued ripening until it is ready for harvest. At this point, the produce’s development has reached its peak and it no longer requires nurture from the soil.
Sukkot, the third and final festival, is the time of ingathering. At this time, produce has completed the process of drying out in the fields and the fruits of trees have ripened, and it is time to gather all the produce into the home. At this point, the farmer is able to benefit from his year of labor in his fields and orchards and realizes the return on all he had invested.
Thus, the agricultural cycle consists of three stages of development: 1) spring – the first ripening; 2) the harvest – completion of ripening; 3) the ingathering – bringing the produce into the home and the farmer’s connection to the fruit of his labor.
Maharal suggests that Am Yisrael experiences a process similar to that of the agricultural cycle. At Pesaḥ, springtime, we left Egypt. Throughout Am Yisrael’s enslavement in Egypt, we did not have an independent national identity. In Chazals’ (our Sages’) homily, Am Yisrael was “As a fetus in the womb of an animal” [Midrash Shoḥer Tov, Tehillim (Psalms) 107], entrapped in the impurity of Egyptian society and unable to express our own national identity. The exodus from Egypt was not only redemption from exile, but the birth and formation of Am Yisrael as well. For the first time, Am Yisrael appeared on the stage of history as an independent nation. Thus, Pesaḥ marks the first stage in the development and “ripening” of Am Yisrael.
The next stage of Am Yisrael’s national development took place during Shavuot, at the revelation at Mount Sinai, at which Am Yisrael achieved its unique spiritual status, making the nation distinct and unique among the nations of the world. From the exodus until the revelation at Sinai, Am Yisrael was a nation like all others; from Sinai on, we were elevated to being “A kingdom of princes and a holy nation” [Shemot 19:6], a nation distinct from all others in carrying God’s flag and having His Shechina manifest within us. After the initial national “ripening” and our definition as an independent nation, with the exodus, at Sinai we realized the Divine designation which was our destiny.
The final and purposeful stage in the process comes at Sukkot, the holiday which commemorates God’s special providence over His nation, as demonstrated by His protecting Israel with the clouds of glory during the nation’s wanderings through the wilderness. This expresses the irrevocable bond between God and Am Yisrael. After reaching our independent national identity and achieving a unique Divine level, the nation now experienced the overt and eternal connection with God. At this point, we realized the special spiritual qualities which were implanted in the nation from the outset. If until now the connection between the nation and God was expressed through His influence on us, from now on it is based upon a mutual relationship. Now, God, as it were, is able to benefit from His labor, with His creations clinging to Him and returning His love.
Thus, the changing seasons reflect the national and spiritual development of Am Israel and the nation’s connection to God. The connection between the shalosh regalim and the seasons is now clear.
The Change of Seasons in Eretz Yisrael
Rabbi Kook z”tl notes that the shalosh regalim correspond to the seasons within the Land of Israel, Throughout the world, even in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, Jews celebrate the shalosh regalim based upon the seasons in Eretz Yisrael. Based upon Maharal’s comments, that the festivals represent Am Yisrael’s stages of national development, it is natural that the shalosh regalim follow the seasons in Eretz Yisrael. The substantive connection of the national soul of Am Yisrael and the Land allows the Land, as it were, to feel her children’s experiences, and effectively, each new stage in Israel’s national development has an impact on the tangible aspects of the Land.
Just as when Israel was exiled from its Land, the Land ceased producing her fruit (as stated in the “reprimand” – “I will make the Land desolate, so that it will become desolate [also] of your enemies who live in it.” [Vayikra 26:32]), and at the time of redemption she will return to producing fruit in bounty (as prophesied by Ezekiel: "ואתם הרי ישראל ענפכם תתנו ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל כי קרבו לבוא” (“And you, the mountains of Israel, will produce your branches, and you will bear your fruit for My people Israel because they are about to come”) [36:8]), so too the various spiritual processes which Am Yisrael experiences find expression within the Land in correspondence to the seasons.
Lessons From Reflections on the Nature of the Land
The nature of Eretz Yisrael differs from that of all other lands. Here in Eretz Yisrael the nature of the Land is intimately connected to the physical and spiritual condition of Am Yisrael, In Eretz Yisrael, even simple things such as seasonal changes carry deep internal meaning.
The more we open our hearts and eyes to observe and internalize the events happening within the Land, to her fruit and her atmosphere, the greater will be our ability to perceive the hand of God and His providence over Am Yisrael.