Today’s daf (Chagigah 26a) – the penultimate page in Massechet Chagigah – contains an exquisite teaching about the way people can look out for each other and lift each other.
We are taught in Mishna Chagigah 3:6 that the unlearned in Jerusalem are trusted with matters relating to kodesh (sacrificial food) but not with matters relating to terumah (priestly food). However, the Mishna then adds that בשעת הרגל אף על התרומה – ‘during the festival, they are also trusted about matters relating to terumah’. But why? What changes during a festival to make those unlearned more halachically observant or trustworthy?
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi answers this question by invoking a verse from Shoftim 20:11 – speaking about the aftermath of the story of the Pilgesh B’Giv’ah – stating: וַיֵּאָסֵף כָּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל הָעִיר כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד חֲבֵרִים – ‘every single man in Israel gathered near the city, united as one’.
On first glance this verse seems to say nothing on our topic, especially as compared to Tehillim 122:3 – יְרוּשָׁלִַם הַבְּנוּיָה כְּעִיר שֶׁחֻבְּרָה לָּהּ יַחְדָּו, ‘Jerusalem built as a city that is joined together’ – which is the verse cited by the Yerushalmi Chagigah 3:6 highlighting how Jerusalem has the capacity of bringing people together.
To explain the invocation of these verses we need to understand that the word חבר (chaver), generally meaning ‘friend’, is also used by our Sages as referring to someone who is halachically reliable. Thus both Shoftim 20:11 and Tehillim 122:3 teach us that there are times when people come together for a common cause at which time all forms of doubt or suspicion are put to the side. In terms of Shoftim it speaks of a time when people are forced to come together for bad reasons, while Tehillim speaks of a time when people come together for good reasons.
Accordingly, in terms of what Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi is teaching us in today’s daf, it is that when people come together – especially in difficult circumstances or under duress – they often lower their barriers and learn to trust those around them who, perhaps ordinarily, may not be part of their circle of belonging or among those with whom they identify with.
Reflecting on this while considering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though we continue to see and read so many heartbreaking stories, still, amidst this chaos are many moments when people who – perhaps until now would have seen each other as being political foes or simply strangers to each other – are coming together and supporting each other. And it is this image – of individuals placing their trust in those who were until now strangers but who are helping save them – is what gives me hope notwithstanding the terrible circumstances under which these efforts are taking place.