March 1, 2022

Chagigah 17

Basing itself on Devarim 16:7, we learn in today’s daf (Chagigah 17a-b) that having come to Jerusalem and consumed the קרבן פסח (Pesach sacrifice), and then offered the עולות ראייה (pilgrimage offering) and שלמי חגיגה (festive peace offering), a pilgrim must stay overnight and only then may return back to their homes.

On first glance this requirement of לינה (staying overnight until the second day of Pesach) seems restrictive. However, as Rav Zalman Sorotzkin explains in his Oznayim LaTorah commentary to Devarim 16:7, what we actually see here is a ruling that expresses great sensitivity:

“If I may venture to give my own opinion, I would like to say that the crux of the matter lies in that Pesach marks the beginning of the harvest. For those who lived far from Jerusalem it could take as much as fifteen days to reach home after the end of Pesach, and another fifteen days to return to Jerusalem for Shavuot. Consequently, there would scarcely be time in between for them to harvest their crops! Therefore, it seems to me that the Torah’s intention here is to be lenient on the issue of rejoicing during Pesach by allowing the pilgrims to return home for the remainder of the festival and express their joy by wearing fresh clothing and drinking aged wine (as per Pesachim 71a & Tosfot Sukkah 42b).”

What this means is that while it may be logical to assume that by coming to Jerusalem for the שלוש רגלים (the three pilgrimage festivals) that pilgrims would be required to stay for the entire festive period, this is – in fact – not the case. And why is this ‘exemption’ specifically mentioned in relation to Pesach? Because Pesach marks the beginning of the harvest and is soon followed by Shavuot.

There are a number of lessons that we can draw from this Gemara and from this insight from R’ Sorozkin, with the first being that we should discourage people from travelling long distances at night and, instead, encourage them to stay over and travel when it is safer. Yet there is a second lesson that we can learn from here – namely that while celebrating festivals is wonderful, doing so takes time, energy and money. As such, the ‘going out’ to celebrate for a festival needs to be counterbalanced with the ‘income’ of those who wish to celebrate, and while – ideally – it would be nice to cease all forms of work during and around the festivals, this is not possible for many people.

As Pesach is less than two months away it is important to bear this in mind, because while families and friends like to travel and/or get together during a Chag, there are some people who – while they may wish to do so – might unfortunately be unable to do so especially given the financial challenges that so many have experienced in recent years.

Ultimately, if the Torah is lenient on the issue of rejoicing during festivals out of sensitivity for people’s incomes, we too should be sensitive about this issue as well. 

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