A quick Google search assures me that I am not alone in wondering about the etiquette of arriving at a party empty-handed when the host specifies “No gifts, please.” This same Google search also makes clear that the etiquette experts of the world are not certain of the answer; some are clear that one should respect the host’s wishes for their own celebration, while others think it is rude to even mention gifts on an invitation.
Today’s daf explores a parallel dilemma, but in this case the guest is Israel and the host is God. Recall that one of the commandments for the pilgrimage festival is simply to appear at the Temple. Today’s question — debated between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish — is whether or not the commandment to appear is fulfilled merely by showing up at the Temple, or whether one must bring a sacrifice as well.
Rabbi Yohanan holds that the mitzvah is merely the appearance of one’s face in the Temple courtyard. Therefore, one doesn’t need to bring an offering whenever he comes to the Temple.
Reish Lakish said that the mitzvah is the appearance of one’s face with an offering, meaning that whenever one comes he must bring an offering with him.
For Rabbi Yochanan, our presence in the Temple is enough to fulfill the special pilgrimage festival obligation to appear before God. Reish Lakish, on the other hand, would be horrified to arrive without a gift for the host which, when we’re talking about the Holy One, doesn’t mean fancy candles — it means a sacrificial offering. To argue his point, Rabbi Yohanan returns to a midrashic reading of Exodus 23:15 that we saw on the very first page of this tractate:
Rabbi Yohanan raised an objection to the opinion of Reish Lakish from a beraita (an earlier teaching): The verse states: “All your males shall appear.” Although the verse as written can be read: “Will see (yireh)” it is actually read: “Shall be seen (yera’e).” Just as I (God) come to see you for free, so too, you may come to see Me in the Temple for free.
This midrash, which we explored a week ago, indicates that the commandment on festivals can be thought of reciprocally — Jews go to Jerusalem to see and be seen by God. And since God does not need to bring a gift to be seen, neither do we.
What, Rabbi Yochanan seems to ask, is a small gift among friends? Does our relationship with the Divine depend on what we can tangibly bring, or can we just bring ourselves — and hope to be met with the same? Does the Divine see us for us?
Chagigah is, deeply, a tractate of longing — for a system and a way of life that has disappeared. It is a tractate centered on a ritual that no longer exists, and therefore, all of the questions are, in a sense, theoretical. And yet, we see from Rabbi Yochanan’s rebuttal that the question is not whether or not God prefers Diptyque to Jo Malone, but whether or not God will be present in our lives, Temple or not. Are we, they seem to be asking, enough for God?
Read all of Chagigah 7 on Sefaria.