If there were any time of year you would think that a Jew should visit the Temple in Jerusalem, it would surely be the holiest days of the year – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Actually, the Torah commandment of visiting the Temple only applied on the other three annual Biblical “pilgrimage” holidays – that is, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot – but not on the High Holy Days. Usually, increased holiness brings along with it increased obligations. Doesn’t it make sense to celebrate and observe the holiest days of the year in the holiest place in the holiest land? Are the three pilgrimage festivals actually more significant than the High Holy Days, or is there another perspective of the commandment to visit the Temple that would explain why it might not apply to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in spite of their prominence?
According to Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits (1921 – 1999), the late Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth of Great Brittan, the absence of this commandment on the High Holy Days is actually not indicative of their inferiority but rather of their supremacy over the other holidays. He writes:
“On other festive occasions, as it were, it is we who have to go to God, for the fullest expression of their spirit can be found only in Jerusalem and its Temple. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, however, God comes to us, and we are to experience His Presence wherever we are” (Companion to the High Holydays Prayer Book, p. 4).
Instead of understanding the commandment to visit the Temple on the Festivals as an expression of the special nature of those days, Rabbi Jakobovits interprets it as a religious necessity that results from their nature. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur remain the holiest days of the year.
Each holiday has its unique significance and message. One general message of the High Holy Days is that it is a time to feel that the Almighty is with us; he is nearby and accessible. We don’t pray to be inscribed in the book of life, to be forgiven for our sins, and to have a happy and healthy new year to a distant God that is far removed from us, our problems and our concerns. In these days of the year, there is no need to go to Him – He is already here with us.