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Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

How significant is pilgrimage in your faith?

The Bible introduces the concept of pilgrimage as a basic component of celebrating the major holy days in the Jewish calendar -- Passover, Pentecost (Shavuot), and Tabernacles (Sukkot).

So central is pilgrimage to these holy days that they are actually referred to, biblically and onward, as the pilgrimage festivals -- more literally, the foot festivals, since people went by foot to the central locale of the pilgrimage, Jerusalem.

Judaism is well known to be a home-based way of life rooted in faith. To go on a pilgrimage means leaving the home. One is therefore left to wonder how these two notions correlate -- the notions of family and pilgrimage.

This seeming quandary actually helps to understand the true meaning of pilgrimage. Yes, family and home are important, but not in isolation. Family is important insofar as it is the building block for the larger entity, the community. The community is, after all, the conglomerate of individual families.

Pilgrimage regularly reconnects the individual families with the larger family, the community. Imagine the excitement of everyone coming together to celebrate the holy days. Since everyone was obligated to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the holy days, such occasions were bustling with energy and excitement.

It is easy to appreciate how that communal celebration would rank as a peak experience, leaving the participants profoundly inspired and eager to build upon that experience. The families gathering in Jerusalem would go back home with strengthened links to the community, and fully aware of the ties that bind them all in common faith.

The idea of a pilgrimage en masse is not a current staple of Jewish expression, but the idea behind pilgrimage remains relevant and instructive. That idea is that it is critical to establish firm links with the community, to simultaneously be cognizant of what binds everyone together as a community, and to translate the awareness that derives from all this into a more focused exercise of one's individual and collective obligations.

Pilgrimage is, at once, a journey into the past, the present, and the future.

Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on  November 22, 2008


Wed, April 14 2021 2 Iyyar 5781