Pilgrimage of a lifetime
TorahExodus 21:1-24:18

Pilgrimage of a lifetime

Parshat Mishpatim

(File photo)
(File photo)

Following the revelation at Mount Sinai, G-d legislates a series of laws for the Children of Israel, over 50 of which are listed in this week’s parsha, Mishpatim. These include the laws of the indentured servant; the penalties for murder, kidnapping, assault and theft; civil laws pertaining to redress of damages, the granting of loans and the responsibilities of the “Four Guardians”; and the rules governing the conduct of justice by courts of law.

Also included are laws warning against mistreatment of foreigners; the observance of the seasonal festivals, and the agricultural gifts that are to be brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; the prohibition against cooking meat with milk; and the mitzvah of prayer.

With regard to the festivals it is written that “three times a year, at Passover, Shavuos and Sukkos” we are to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Throughout the Torah, this mitzvah, called “Aliyah L’Regal,” is mentioned three times.

While we understand the importance of going to join in the holiday celebration at the Holy Temple, why the need for the Torah to repeat this commandment three times?

Let us take a closer look at the three instances in which the Torah mentions this mitzvah, we may discover something very interesting.

Our parsha states: “Three times during the year … before the Master, the L-rd.” In other words, the reason for this pilgrimage was to see “Ha’Adon Hashem,” “the Master, the L-rd”— as in “Adon Olam,” “Master of the Universe,” the opening words of a familiar prayer.

The second time this mitzvah appears, in the portion of Ki Tisa, the Torah (Shmos 34:23) states: “Three times during the year… before the Master, the L-rd, the G-d of Israel.” Here the Torah adds to “the Master, the L-rd” also “the G-d of Israel” — referring to a special relationship Israel has with Him; He is the “G-d of Israel.”

The third time this mitzvah appears in the Torah is in the Book of Devarim, in the Torah portion of Re’ei (16:16). There it states the following: “Three times a year… before the L-rd, your G-d…” Here, the Torah states that the pilgrim is not coming to see “the Master” or “the G-d of Israel,” but “your G-d.” Here it gets personal: “your G-d,” in the singular — the G-d that belongs to you.

By mentioning the mitzvah three times, the Torah is not merely underlining its importance, rather it is conveying to the understanding that our relationship with G-d can be experienced on three levels.

The first person in the Torah to refer to G-d as “Master” was our patriarch Abraham. The Talmud tells us: “From the day G-d created the universe, there was no man who called G-d “Master” until Abraham came along and called him Master” (Tractate Berachos 7b).

Abraham was the first person in history to recognize G-d in the world and to teach others that there is a “Master of the Universe.”

The second expression, “the G-d of Israel,” is first found in the saga of our Patriarch Jacob. Immediately after the story of his fight with Esau’s guardian angel — the angel who gave him the name Israel — the Torah tells us (Bereishis 33:20) that Jacob built an altar, and named it “L-rd, the G-d of Israel.”

Finally, we come to the expression “your G-d.” This phrase is familiar to us from the Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments — which begin with the words, “I am the L-rd your G-d…”

What the Torah essentially wants to teach us is that “Aliyah L’Regel,” the thrice-annual pilgrimage, was not just a physical journey but more than that — a spiritual journey.

In the journey of life, a person must complete a certain “pilgrimage.” We must go from Point A to Point B — and beyond, always progressing from level to level. We can find the steps of this journey in the different words used by the Torah to describe this mitzvah.

At the outset of the spiritual pilgrimage, one must first acknowledge that there is a “Master” — a Higher Power. The person must come to the realization and acceptance that there is something greater than him or her that guides the universe. This is merely recognition of an existence, not necessarily something that impacts our day to day life.

At the next level, however, one should come to the realization that being Jewish means nurturing a deeper relationship with G-d. It is thanks to that realization that the Jew can truly be “a light unto the nations.”

The ultimate goal of the pilgrimage is to connect with G-d as an individual. We must ultimately arrive at a personal relationship with G-d — a relationship in which we can personally turn to G-d and know that G-d is listening, He hears our prayer, feels our pain and shares our joy.

Sometimes we need not look too far to find this personal connection with G-d. At other times it may take a little searching. But we’ll go to the end of the earth to find meaning. pjc

Rabbi Mendy Schapiro is the director of Chabad of Monroeville. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.

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