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Chagigah – closing thoughts
I have noticed a tension, some might even say a dialectic tension, in masechta Chagigah. These last few pages highlight a real division within Klal Yisrael in that last century of Bais Sheini. Besides the Torah-mandated division between the Priestly caste and the non-Cohanim, there appeared a stark contrast between those who were well-versed in the many complex rules of Tahara and Terumah and those who could not keep it all straight. People could not touch other people’s things, food could not be shared, even by those who were trusted on the sheer kashrus of their food.
People like me who have been involved in Kiruv know how important it is to have an open house to invote people over for Shabbos, Yom-Tov, picnics, luncheons etc. Can you imagine a Klal Yisrael where Talmidei Chachomim are not allowed to have less learned people into their own homes?
But as the last pages of chagigah point out, during Yom-Tov an exception was made to the rule. It was only motzoei- Yom Tov that everything in the Beis Hamikdash and elsewhere was toiveled and repurified. It sounds all very nice and Jewish-unity centered, if you like that cliche. But how could they ignore halacha?
I think the response is that they were not ignoring the halachos of tahara. Remember, when an Am Haaretz is considered tamei, it means that the Halacha gave them a presumption. If it was more than that, thatis, if I knew for a fact that a Jew was tamei, I would have no right to close my eyes. The Rabbis created that presumption. Yom-Tov comes along and the Rabbis say “don’t presume”. To use a modern catchphrase, “Don’t ask, don’t tell”. That is a different attitude than shutting your eyes to halachos. It is choosing not to notice other people’s shortcomings! What a concept!
Holidays are called “Chag”. A chug, Ches-Gimel, is also a circle. Rav SR Hirsch says that this is the imperative of the Chag, to be joined together in a circle, where all points are equidistant from the center. So much of halacha creates divisions, hierarchies between people. Those are important to maintain. Halacha is not egalitarian. Life is not egalitarian. I say “Shelo Asani Goy, Shelo Asani Aved, Shelo asani Isha” every day. Even among men, halacha and life form many barriers to true unity.
Then Yom Tov comes. As the first pages of Chagigah say, the Torah says “Kol Zechur’cha”, all your males should come see Me, says Hashem. There should be no tours or times where only certain people go up because of side considerations. Either all may go, or none need to go. After Yom-Tov, we will revert to some or most of the old patterns, but for a week here and there, Chag Hamatzos, Chag Hashavuos and Chag Hasuccos, we re-enact K’Ish Echad B’Leiv Echad, not only in a mushy touchy-feely way, but in a concrete halachic sense as well.