Every year, tens-of-thousands of Jews visit the Kossel on Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos. But does the mitzvah of aliyah laregel (visiting Yerushalayim on the three Regalim) apply in our time when the Bais Hamikdosh is lying in ruins? Are these visitors fulfi lling the Torah’s command, Three times a year all your males shall be seen before Hashem your G-d in the place He chose? (Devorim 16:16).
When Did the Mitzvah Start?
Just as we are questioning whether the mitzvah of aliyah laregel exists nowadays, so the Ramban (Ibid 16:9) asks when this mitzvah began in the fi rst place. Was there a mitzvah to visit the Mishkon on the three regolim, or does the mitzvah of aliyah laregel only apply to the Bais Hamikdosh
Examining the sources, we find something intriguing. On the one hand, the Gemara (Makos 10a) says that there was no aliyah laregel in the days of the Mishkon. Dovid Hamelech was happy when he heard people complain: “When will this old person [Dovid] die! Then Shlomo, his son, can come and build the Bais Habechirah and we will fulfill the mitzvah of aliyah laregel!” This intimates that until Shlomo built the Bais Hamikdosh the mitzvah of aliyah laregel did not exist.
On the other hand, Tanna D’Bei Eliyahu (end chapter 8) describes how Elkana traveled to Shiloh four times every year, “three times according to the Torah and one time that he accepted upon himself voluntarily,” deliberately choosing different routes each year in order to persuade as many people as possible to be oleh regel to Shiloh. He did this “until all Yisroel were oleh and Elkana gave merit to the whole of Israel and educated them to observe mitzvos.” This indicates that the mitzvah of aliyah laregel existed in the days of Mishkon Shiloh before Shlomo built the Bais Hamikdosh.
The surprising answer is that both alternatives are correct. The mitzvah of aliyah laregel depended on where the Mishkon was sited. When it stood in the more important site of Shiloh, there was a mitzvah of aliyah laregel (see Ramban, Devorim 26:2), and Elkanah was anxious to persuade people to fulfill the mitzvah. After the Mishkon moved to the less prominent sites of Nov and Givon, the mitzvah of aliyah laregel ceased. Thus, people yearned for Shlomo to build the Bais Hamikdosh so that they would be obligated once again to be oleh regel. Both Shiloh and Yerushalayim were chosen as Hashem’s abode in the world.
Just as planes flying to Eretz Yisroel for Yom Tov are packed to capacity, so in the days of the second Bais Hamikdosh Jews came up to Yerushalayim not only from every corner of Eretz Yisroel but from the Diaspora as well. The three regolim were an opportunity for Klal Yisroel to reunite. Chazal showed great concern for Jews coming from far away and did everything possible to ensure them a comfortable journey and a timely arrival. Perhaps their most drastic measure was to decree leap years “for the Jews of the Diaspora who had left their places [to arrive for Pesach] and had still not arrived” (Sanhedrin 11a).
Adding an extra Adar provided plenty of extra time for the Jews to arrive well before Pesach. The Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashanah 3) derives this extraordinary practice from the verse, Speak to bnei Yisroel and say to them… these are My mo’adim (Vayikra 23) – arrange the mo’ados so that all Yisroel can observe them!” To ensure that every Jew arrives in time, the Torah instructed us to go to the extreme of altering the calendar.
The number of Jews arriving in Yerushalayim was enormous. Shortly before the Churban, King Aggripas, last king of the Jews, counted the crowd by collecting one kidney from every korban Pesach and reached a total of a million two hundred thousand kidneys. Since no less than ten people shared each korban Pesach, the city was packed with well over two million Jews. Philo, a Jewish philosopher who lived in Egypt at that time, reports that masses of Jews traveled to Yerushalayim not only for Pesach but on every regel. “Thousands of people from thousands of towns arrived at the Bais Hamikdosh for every chag,” he wrote, “by land or by sea, from east, west, north, and south…”
On a more somber note, Josephus (Wars VI 9:3) notes that due to Klal Yisroel’s enthusiasm for aliyah laregel, hundreds of thousands of them were trapped in Yerushalayim at the time of the Churbon.
“The number of those carried captive during this whole war was estimated at ninety-seven thousand,” he writes, “while the number of those who perished during the whole siege was one million and a hundred thousand. Most of them were of the same nation but did not belong to the city itself. They had come up from all over the country to the Chag Hamatzos, and were suddenly shut in by an army.”
In Our Day
The medrash (Shir Hashirim Raba 8:11) tells us that Jews continued coming to Yerushalayim even after the Churban: “Even though the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed, Yisroel did not stop coming there three times a year.” Does this prove that the mitzvah of aliyah laregel still exists in our time? Not necessarily.
Most poskim rule that even if Eretz Yisroel retained its sanctity (the Rambam’s ruling), nonetheless, there is no longer a mitzvah of aliyah laregel. At most, it has the status of a minhag. While discussing whether there is any obligation to live in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Moshe Feinstein also mentioned the mitzvah of aliyah laregel (Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:122):
“Regarding the mitzvah of re’iyah [aliyah laregel] also,” he wrote, “it is simple and clear that this applies only when the Bais Habechirah is built, even if we say that the mitzvah of appearing there does not depend on bringing a re’iyah sacrifice. Although people close to Eretz Yisroel had the custom of visiting Yerushalayim, this happened in the time of the Geonim as a mere remembrance and a longing for the building of Tziyon and Yerushalayim through the Moshiach whom we constantly await.”
On the other hand, a minority of poskim, including the Chasam Sofer, the Seby Chemed, and the Pe’as Hashulchan, are of the opinion that the mitzvah of aliyah laregel persists in our time.
“Fortunate are Yisroel who fulfill this mitzvah in every generation with great joy,” the Sedei Chemed writes. “Every year, they travel from all corners of the earth far and near, and are unconcerned about the great expenses and the difficult journey. Those who cannot afford to go by carriage and horses travel on foot, (Tehillim 102:15): For your servants have desired her stones and favored her dust” (Eretz Yisroel 1).
As mentioned earlier, most opinions hold that at the most, aliyah laregel is only a minhag. “Just as a dove never leaves its cote even if you remove its nestlings,” the medrash says, “so Yisroel never ceased to do aliyah laregel three times a year even though the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed” (Shir Hashirim Raba 1:63). The Maharit (1538–1639) explains (responsa 1:114) that we are inspired to do this by our love of Eretz Yisroel.
“This is because of chibuv (love) of Eretz Yisroel,” he writes. “Just as Rabi Aviyu used to kiss the stone of Akko based on the verse, For your servants desired its stones, until today, the masses of Beis Yisroel have the custom of being oleh regel to Yerushalayim and seeing the floor of Har Habayis where the Bais Hamikdosh stood.”
The custom of aliyah laregel persisted for many generations. Rav Hai Gaon used to visit Yerushalayim and circle Har Hazeisim on Sukkos and the Kaftor Vaferach (1280-1366) describes aliyah laregel in the time of the Rishonim (chap. 6): “We and our brothers in the Diaspora who dwell in Sin and Chamas, Damascus, Tzuvah, Egypt, and Alexandria have the custom of going up to Yerushalayim on chagim and mo’adim. This is because of agmas nefesh (sadness), that is, to increase agmas nefesh.”
Indeed, the persistent custom of Diaspora Jews to visit Yerushalayim after the Churban answers an intriguing question. Although the rainy season begins immediately after Sukkos, we delay asking for rain for a few weeks “so that the olei regolim can reach their homes in Bavel” (Ta’anis 10a). If so, asks the Ran (1320- 1376), now that the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed, why don’t we start davening for rain straight away after Sukkos? He answers that the delay is still relevant since “people from all the surroundings gathered together to be oleh regel to Yerushalayim, as is still done nowadays.”
In modern times, the first mass aliyah laregel was organized by Agudas Yisroel at the height of World War II in 1944 as a sign of solidarity with the martyred Jews in Europe. The journalist Yisroel Spiegel wrote that the highlight of the event was a huge public assembly in the Batei Machseh neighborhood of the Old City, from where the crowd descended to the Kossel. Rav Zalman Sorotzkin cried out at the time: “Hashem is calling louder through the cries of calamity heard in our camp, but to no avail. Therefore, we must go nearer and approach the gates of Heaven from where His voice cries: ‘Repent, repent of your evil ways, Beis Yisroel!’ Perhaps here at the holiest spot in the world we will merit to hear Hashem’s voice!”
Nowadays, masses of Klal Yisroel and gedolei Yisroel visit Yerushalayim and the Kosel on the shalosh regolim. Many make the effort of viewing the Har Habayis at that time. The Yalkut Shimoni (Yeshayahu 514) writes that after the Moshiach comes the mitzvah of aliyah laregel will be practiced more often than ever:
“Yisroel said: Ribono Shel Olam! When will you return our glory of going up three times a year to see the Shechinah? The Holy One said to them: My sons! In this world you went up three times a year. When the final redemption arrives, you will go up every month as it says, And it will come to pass that from one Rosh Chodesh to another, and from one Shabbos to another, all flesh will come to bow before me, said Hashem (Yeshayahu 66:23).
May this happen very soon!