Should we come to see or to be seen?
In Parshat Mishpatim the Torah presents us with the mitzvah of the three pilgrim festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot – times when the people of Israel would gather in Jerusalem, in the temple before Hashem. The way the Torah puts it is: ‘Shalosh peamim beshana yeira’eh.’ – ‘Three times a year he shall be seen.’
Our sages notice that the word ‘yeira’eh’ – ‘he shall be seen’ – has the same lettering as ‘yireh’ meaning ‘he shall see’. Therefore the Mishna, at the commencement of Masechet Chagigah, tells us that if a person is sadly blind and therefore cannot see what’s happening in Jerusalem, he is exempt from this mitzvah.
The Rambam enquires as to what happens if one has only partial sight, that is, if one can only see with one eye. His conclusion is that we are required to have ‘re’iah sheleimah,’ total vision, and therefore sadly, if a person is blind in one eye, he too is exempt. The Rambam explains that this is because it is so important that one should see for oneself the beauty, splendour, and majesty of Jerusalem in order to appreciate the privilege that one has.
Now I believe that all of this is exceptionally relevant for us right now. So many of us have not been in a shul for a good while on account of coronavirus and we are looking forward to the time when we shall return. When that day arrives and we are able to fill our shuls again, why will we be there?
For some it might be a case of wanting to be seen. We would like to be noticed. We would want people to recognise that we are being loyal to the community. That is a very good reason.
But there is a better reason. The better reason is because we want to see for ourselves, because we appreciate the beauty, grandeur and privilege we have of ‘tefillah b’tzibbur,’ to daven with a community. We appreciate the ruchnius and the presence of Hashem, and we want to connect to Him in the strongest possible way through being part of that minyan. So therefore when the time comes, and please God it should be soon, for our shuls to be vibrant and full once again, let it not just be a case of ‘yeira’eh’ – in order that we should be seen. Let it be ‘yireh’ – because we don’t want to miss out; we want to see it for ourselves.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis