In Parshas Re’eh, Moshe gives over to Bnei Yisrael many mitzvos which show how we are different from the other nations of the world. Among them are an obligation to destroy places of Avoda Zara, the laws of Bamos (private alters), the laws of eating korbanos and other consecrated foods, and maaser (tithes). All these mitzvos are obligations which show how we are different; a very important idea as Bnei Yisrael get closer to Eretz Yisrael and its’ seven nations of Goyim.
The parshah ends with a discussion of the שלש רגלים (Shalosh Regalim), the Three Pilgrimage Festivals. Reading the pesukim, we see an interesting pattern developing. By the eight pesukim which discuss Pesach, not a single mention is made of the obligation to be happy on the Holiday. However, by the holiday of Shavuos, the pasuk mentions it once, “וְשָׂמַחְתָּ לִפְנֵי | יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ” “And you shall rejoice before Hashem, your God” (Devarim 16:11); and by Succos it’s mentioned twice, “ושמחת בחגך …" והיית אך שמח “And you shall rejoice in your festival…and you will only be happy” (16:14-15)! If all the holidays are meant to be celebrated with extra happiness, why is happiness not mentioned by Pesach and also, why do we need these extra mentions by Succos and Shavuos?
The Meforshim have several explanations but they all center on the status of the crops. The Baal Haturim says that on Pesach the crops have not yet been harvested and therefore your simcha is not complete as you are still worried about them. Will there be a plague? Will pests get into them? This will weigh down your mind and prevent you from fully experiencing the happiness of the holidays. On Shavuos, the fields have been harvested but not the vineyards; therefore there is only one mention of simcha. On Succos, when everything has been harvested, your simcha is finally complete and therefore, the pasuk mentions it twice. The Chizkuni adds in a small point that one of the reasons that the Shalosh Regalim are at these times of the year is because these are times of harvesting and we are happy as a result of it. The main idea of Pesach though, is the Exodus from Egypt and therefore does not deserve an extra mention of simcha like Shavuos and Succos.
Sefer Devarim is the sefer where the mitzvos changed from ideas to reality for Bnei Yisrael. We see that in this parshah and specifically this mitzvah of the Festivals. With all the ideas and themes surrounding these Holidays, we see a new one here; even a holiday set up to celebrate Hashem, His city, and His holy nation, still revolves around your personal simcha of your everyday life. Have your crops come in? Are you set up financially for the coming season? Is everything okay with you? In that case, let us celebrate! I believe that this combination of spirituality and real life issues was Moshe’s way of preparing Bnei Yisrael for life beyond the border and into Eretz Yisrael. May we see the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days and celebrate the festivals together in the holy city of Yerushalayim!
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