שָׁלֹושׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָּל זְכוּרְךָ אֶת פְּנֵי ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחָר (=בבית המקדש): בְּחַג הַמַּצּוֹת וּבְחַג הַשָּׁבֻעוֹת וּבְחַג הַסֻּכּוֹת (דברים טז:טז)
Three times a year will your men see the face of Hashem Your God in the place He chose (the Temple): on the Festival of Matzot, the Festival of Shavuoth and the Festival of Succoth (Deuteronomy 16:16)
Last week we went into Jerusalem for one of the intermediary days of Passover. Driving in to the city took an extra hour with all the traffic and we found ourselves waiting in line for 20 minutes just to get into the parking lot. Personally, I don’t like crowds, and anticipating this would be the case, I was not looking forward to the trip. We walked through the Mamilla Mall to get to the Jaffa Gate. It was so jam-packed that even the pedestrian routes had “traffic.”
When we finally made it through the Jaffa Gate my viewpoint began to change a bit. We saw throngs of people turning right to walk through the Armenian Quarter, and crowds coming up through the Muslim Quarter.
Suddenly the image before me felt like a vision.
Walking through were Christians on Easter holiday, a Greek Orthodox Priest, Ethiopian Jewish women in traditional white garb.
Men in fur hats. Black hats. Black kippahs. Knit kippahs. Bare-headed men. All walking together to pay their respects.
There was a group of students from Brigham Young University visiting our favorite artist in the Old City.
This to me was a living reenactment of Jews of all kinds, coming to the holiest place in the Jewish religion during a pilgrimage festival. There may not be a Temple but with the Western Wall plaza full, there was a feeling of pilgrimage.
Seeing the cultural twists on the traditional Passover food made me think of the times of the ancient Israelites when those from the north of the Land of Israel brought their wines and sheep while the those from the south may have brought doves or dried fish.
On our way down through the Jewish Quarter as well as on our way up through the Muslim Quarter, people were selling their wares and all kinds of food items. People spoke in different languages with different accents, yet there was a sense of serenity around. There was a feeling of pride and belonging for all who were there despite, or maybe because of, the varied colors of skin and dress. There was a sense that it was one nation coming to the Western Wall and other nations coming to observe. A sense of camaraderie among the often distant.
Philo of Alexandria wrote in the first century CE:
“…thousands of people from thousands of cities, arriving on dry land or by sea, from east and west, from north and south, arrive at the Temple every holiday as if to a communal sanctuary, a port secure against the storms of life… and they request to find there the quiet, to be rid of the worries that trouble them from the dawn of their youth, to rest a bit and to and to spend their time in joy and happiness. With a heart full of good hopes they make this positive vacation in holiness and with respect to God: they also tie bonds of friendship with people that they did not know beforehand, and in pouring their hearts onto the sacrifices they find the final proof to the unity of ideas.”
I knew the vision from that day was familiar. Philo just described it a bit before me.
Throughout the Second Temple period to today, nuances between Jews have existed, whether it is the craft and agricultural items that were brought to the Temple or the differences in the color of our skin today. But for this holiday, this pilgrimage, Jews came and still come from near and far to celebrate, as one nation.