In this week’s Torah portion, we encountered the three pilgrimage festivals: Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. Why were we commanded to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on these three occasions? Ostensibly, the answer is clear. On Pesach we departed from Egypt, on Shavuot, we received the Torah, and Sukkot evokes the clouds of glory that accompanied the Israelites and protected them as they journeyed in the wilderness.
However, if we examine the sources closely, we will reveal a different reason for the three festivals. Pesach is the festival of the reaping of the barley and that is why we bring the omer offering from barley. On Shavuot, we reap the wheat and that is why we bring the offering of the two loaves [shetei halechem] made from wheat. On Sukkot, we harvest the grain from the field before winter.
So, is the reason for the three festivals the departure from Egypt or is it the cycle of agricultural life in the Land of Israel?
The answer relates to a different question regarding the connection between Pesacḥ and Shavuot, the connection of the counting of the omer.
In the simple sense, the counting leads us from the exodus from Egypt on Pesach to the ultimate objective of that Exodus: the revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Torah. This is the connection between the national experience and the spiritual experience.
Rav Kook suggests an additional answer. Faith is based on emotion and on intellect. Emotion is manifest on Pesach, when we departed from Egypt, and for that we are thankful and rejoice emotionally. This is why the offering is from barley, which is food for animals, for which the experiential side is dominant. By contrast, on Shavuot, the encounter with G-d is on the intellectual plane, and the offering is an expression of that intellectual encounter, an offering of wheat. (The Tree of Knowledge was wheat, according to the opinion of one of the Sages).
Rav Kook asserts that the encounter of the believer with the Holy One blessed be He is based both on the emotion and the intellect of faith.
Therefore, regarding the reason for the celebration of the three pilgrimage festivals, whether it is because of the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, or due to the agricultural cycle in the Land of Israel, the answer is, it is the connection between them.
Just as there is a connection between the emotion and the intellect, between the national experience and the religious experience, between Pesach and Shavuot, so too there is a connection between the historical events of the exodus from Egypt and agriculture in the Land of Israel, the events of the present and of life itself.
The Holy One blessed be He protected us with clouds of glory, took us out of Egypt, and gave us the Torah, so we could perform agricultural work in the Land of Israel, study the Torah and keep the mitzvot.
The writer studied in Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem and served as a rabbi in Efrat. He is a prolific and much-read writer on Torah issues and heads the "Derech Emunah" (Way of Torah) movement of young Israeli Orthodox rabbis.