“Three times you shall celebrate for me in a year.” (Shemos 23:14)
Chazal use different terms to describe the Yamim Tovim: chagim, zemanim, moadim, and regalim. Chagim comes from the word machog, which means cycle, because the Yamim Tovim come around every year. Zemanim and moadim refer to the fact that each Yom Tov comes at a specific time of the year. Moadim also comes from the word vaad, which means meetings, referring to the three times a year we would meet Hashem in the Beis Hamikdash. Lastly, the simple meaning of regalim is feet. This reflects the halachah that we would all walk by foot to the Beis Hamikdash for Yom Tov. (Rav Itamar Schwartz, Bilvavi Mishken Evneh)
alking to the Kosel for k’vasikin on Shavuos: It was the experience of a lifetime, something I’ve only managed once. But the image of it is branded on my mind — the scene, the scents, the colors and contrasts.
It was the end of my seminary year, right after the first Gulf war. The conflict had been over since Purim, but the country was still reeling from months of tension, missiles, and sealed rooms.
Yet come Shavuos, I wanted to walk to the Kosel. I’d heard so much about the experience; it was the seminary thing to do. Was it safe? It would take more than a few months to wipe the warfare mentality from my brain. But I’d lived through nissim during those harrowing weeks, and I wanted to say Hallel there as dawn broke over the pearly stones.
Let’s reflect on the term regalim. Chazal say the world stands on three pillars — Torah, avodah, and chesed. Parallel to that, time stands on the three pillars of Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos. Just as we ascended to the Beis Hamikdash then, our souls must now ascend to a higher place. Thus the purpose of Yom Tov is not just to celebrate at a specific time, but to realize that this time period upholds and elevates us further.
I set out with three other friends. The streets were quiet, dark, but there were plenty of people walking, their soft steps whispering secrets swallowed by the night. We shared those secrets as we walked.
As we reached Malchei Yisrael, the sparse groups became a crowd, the crowd a mass. The sounds were still muffled, the aura reverent. We marched down through the heart of Geula and more and more shadows joined us from alleys and entranceways — couples, groups, and whole families.
We swung onto the road leading toward the Old City and the pace quickened. The beat of footsteps echoed our communal heartbeat, and anticipation rose. Hundreds, thousands, we walked. As I turned into Shaar Shechem for the first and only time in my life, my thoughts were not of safety but of salvation. Today, Shaar Shechem belonged to us. Now we were the majority, a minority that had surged by each person joining, walking together.
The birds were beginning to chirp, the sky turning pink as we drew closer to the Kosel plaza. As far as I could see, all around me were upturned faces, faces lit from within, faces drawn to the Wall that had withstood thousands of years of devastation. Here we were a single soul.
When we attempt to elevate ourselves spiritually, we must proceed in steps, just as we traveled toward Yerushalayim step by step. We need to clarify our starting point — our spiritual gaps — and state our destination — our goals.
The Mesillas Yesharim teaches that we cannot acquire all the levels of piety at once. Spiritual growth is a gradual, incremental process. And Yom Tov is the time in which we clarify our journey’s destination.
I stood, answering Amen as the chazzan began Shacharis. I stood as perhaps my ancestors had stood — I, the daughter of a sixth-generation Yerushalmi, finally returned to her homeland.
As we began Shemoneh Esreh, the whispers seemed to gain strength, the tefillos joined together to form a voice louder than sound, reaching past the sun which had begun to shine.
It was a single experience that has stayed strong in my mind. For one night I was part of a heady whole, moving toward a single goal. And while the years may have gone by, the echoes of those steps keep guiding me toward my destination.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 645)