In the Musaf Shemone Esre of Yom Tov we say, “Rebuild Your Temple….establish Your site….May we go up there three times a year…as it says in Your Torah, “Three times a year shall all men appear before Hashem Elokecho….on Pesach, on Shevuos and on Succos . Do not appear empty-handed. Each should come with his own gift, according to the blessing Hashem Elokecho has bestowed upon you.”
We must not appear empty-handed. Chagiga (7a) says that this refers to the korbonos which we have to bring when we come on those three festivals. The Mishna (2a) tells us the minimum. But there is no maximum. We should bring “according to the blessing Hashem has bestowed upon us.” If our flocks have been very productive, we should bring many korbonos to show our appreciation to Hashem.
“How beautiful are your footsteps” (Shir Hashirim 7:2) is interpreted by Chagiga (3a) as a praise of those who went three times a year on the sholosh regolim to the Beis Hamikdosh in Yerusholayim. Going on foot to Yerusholayim and returning could have taken a few weeks. Multiplied by three, a large part of the year has already been taken up. All farm work had to be put on hold – a significant sacrifice in order to fulfil the mitzva of the Torah and to honour Hashem. If we bear in mind that, for the most part, they brought their wives and families with them to fulfil the mitzva of “giving joy to one’s wife and household on Yom Tov,” (Tosfos, Rosh Hashono 6b) the visit to Yerusholayim became a full-scale expedition. More than that, nobody was left to guard the farms and homes; people had to have bitachon that the promise of the Torah, (Shemos 34:24) “No-one will covet your land whilst you go up to the Beis Hamikdash three times a year,” would be fulfilled. This thrice yearly aliya l’regel was a tremendous demonstration of loyalty to Hashem. The posuk’s praise, “How beautiful are your footsteps” was extremely appropriate.
However the wording of the posuk, “ …yeroeh kol zechuracho” – all males should be seen – implies more than just going to the Beis Hamikdosh with one’s korbonos. If our boss calls us in for a periodic meeting, he does not intend to discuss the weather. He wants to check up on our work. What have we done since the last meeting? If Hashem wants us to appear before Him, a shiver should go down our spine. An investigation of our worthiness seems to be likely. A meeting with Hashem is also not going to be a social call. What have we achieved since the last meeting, the last regel?
Let’s go back to the office meeting with the boss. He wants to know “tachlis”. How many sales have we achieved? How many new clients have we brought in? Have we been working hard? What about punctuality and a willingness to put in extra hours to achieve more? No, meeting the boss is no picnic. We have to have answers, good answers.
And what happens if the boss gave us generous expenses to enable us to concentrate on building up the business, we’d better have very good answers. Let’s imagine the boss asking what we’ve done over the last few months for the firm and we answer him, “Well, actually I was busy with private work. I relaxed, took a couple of holidays….” The boss would rightly be very angry, “What, I gave you a salary and extra expenses and you pocketed them and took it easy?”
When we meet Hashem three times a year, he greets us with love. “Hi. Great to see you. It’s amazing you’ve come, with the ganze mishpocho.” But He also wants to know “tachlis”. What have we achieved since the last regel? Another mesechta, a new kevius? Were we misahev al habrios, making Hashem more loved by other people because of what we have done? Perhaps we made sholom with a relative we had been on bad terms with. Did we do new chasodim, ring up or invite that lonely neighbour we had been meaning to befriend but never got round to? We have to have something to report to the Boss, “according to the blessings He has bestowed upon us.” We cannot go empty-handed. And if we say, “Things are ticking along, nothing new really…” Hashem’s “eyebrows” might go up. “A few months and nothing new? That’s a bit disappointing.” And if we say, “The last few months I’ve been very busy with other things. I put my avodas Hashem on the back burner.” Hashem will be very disappointed. “Put avodas Hashem on the back burner? But I gave you expenses – parnosoh, good health and you pocketed them? Squandered the time? Did your own thing? That’s not acceptable.” How humiliated we would feel, how disappointed in ourselves. In fact the prospect of that humiliation would ensure that we would have new achievements to report. Chas vesholom that we should appear before Hashem empty-handed. Therefore going to Yerusholayim three times a year did not only transform our Yom Tov experience. Our preparation for those visits would have transformed the whole year.
We do not have the zechus to go to the Beis Hamikdosh three times a year but we hope and daven for that privilege. Therefore we have to do everything we can do to show a real desire to go. And that means making sure that when Yom Tov comes, we are not “empty-handed.” We have Torahdik achievments to our name. We accept all of Hashem’s blessings. We cannot just be doing “our own thing.” Now is the time to start the list of achievements which we will be able to show to Hashem on Yom Tov, especially if b’ezras Hashem, we can be oleh l’regel to the renewed Beis Hamikdosh – and the words of Shir Hashirim will be apply to us – “How beautiful are your footsteps.”