This week's Torah reading contains the commandment to celebrate the three festivals Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. In the verse "You shall celebrate for Me three festivals a year" (Ex. 23:14), the word for "festivals" is "regalim", the plural of "regel", which also means "leg". On the other hand, the root of the verb "to celebrate" ["lechog"] is "chug", which can mean "to rotate" or "encircle", emphasizing the yearly cycle of the holidays, giving also "chag", another word for "holiday". This word is related to the word for "compass" [in Hebrew, "mechuga", see Isaiah 44:13] and gave rise to the rabbinic usage of "machog" for "gesture". It thus carries the association of a hand-movement.

The first three [midot] - chesed, gevura, and tiferet - are termed the "hands", while the second three [netzach, hod, and yesod] are termed the "legs".

In Kabbalah, chesed is associated with the right arm, gevura with the left arm, tiferet with the torso, netzach with the right leg, hod with the left leg, and yesod with the reproductive organ.

To explain: chesed-gevura-tiferet are identified as the two arms, and the general harmonizing principle, which is tiferet between them, is also called a "hand", since it functions as one hand that includes the two other hands, chesed and gevura.

Thus, although the torso is not a hand, since it serves to unify and harmonize the two real hands, it can be considered a figurative "hand".

Netzach and hod are the two legs, and they are included together in their harmonizing entity, yesod….

This is the mystical meaning of "the great hand" (Ex. 14:31), "the strong hand" (Deut. 3:24, 7:19, 11:2, 34:12) and "the uplifted hand" (Num. 33:3) between them, as mentioned in the Zohar. (I:23a, III:246b, 283a; Tikunei Zohar, introduction
p. 9a, 58 p. 89a, 69 p. 101b, 70 p. 130a)

The "great hand" is chesed, a synonym for which is "gedula" ["greatness"]. The "strong hand" is gevura. The "uplifted hand" is tiferet.

Corresponding to these are netzach-hod-yesod, the three legs. For netzach and hod are the two legs, and they are included together in their harmonizing entity, yesod, which thus functions as the third leg.

This is the mystical meaning of the verse "You shall celebrate for Me three festivals a year". For malchut is termed "the holiday [in Hebrew, 'chag'] of the bride", as mentioned in the beginning of Tikunei Zohar in manuscript.

Malchut is the bride, the mate of Zeir Anpin, the groom….

Malchut is the bride, the mate of Zeir Anpin, the groom. In the Zohar, malchut is described as receiving the flow from the three sefirot of netzach-hod-yesod, which are associated with the three festivals. (Zohar III:257b; Tikunei Zohar 21, 45b, 58b)

And it is conjoined with netzach-hod-yesod, as we have stated.

It follows that these three [i.e. netzach, hod, and yesod,] shine to her three times a year, and through their power the three holidays are produced on these three occasions.

Now, the three holidays [actually] originate in chesed-gevura-tiferet, but chesed-gevura-tiferet shine down through netzach-hod-yesod, and through netzach-hod-yesod they [i.e. chesed-gevura-tiferet] shine into malchut.

This explains the obligation to appear [at the Temple] on the festivals.

Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot are called "pilgrimage festivals" because most of the populace is require to travel to Jerusalem at those times and appear at the Temple in order to offer specific sacrifices. (Ex. 23:17, 34:23; Deut. 16:16)

To explain: The commandment to appear [at the Temple] is that the individual ascend on the three festivals to the court of the Israelites in order to appear there. This obligation only applies to adult males.

The "Court of the Israelites" is the easternmost 11 cubits of the Courtyard [Azara] surrounding the Temple.(Mishna Torah, Beit HaBechira 5:12)

The [mystical] reason we are required to ascend there on foot is to give [spiritual] power to the supernal "legs", i.e. netzach-hod-yesod, on these three festivals. This is why they are not called, [for example,] "three appointed times", but "three festivals", in order to allude to the fact that the light from these three festivals shines via the supernal "legs", netzach-hod-yesod, into malchut, as embodied in the Court of the Israelites.

For the word for "festival" ["regel"], as we know, is the same as the word for "leg". These three holidays are thus three "leg-holidays", holidays on which it is necessary to strengthen the supernal "legs" by using our own legs for holiness, i.e. to travel to Jerusalem and appear at the Holy Temple.

In truth, the height of the stature of the Womens' Court is up to the yesod of its malchut, while the height of the stature of the Israelites' court is up to the netzach-hod-yesod of Zeir Anpin.

A westward progression within the Temple precincts corresponds to an ascent through succeeding higher realms of spirituality….

The Womens' Court [Ezrat Nashim] is the additional courtyard outside the courtyard of the Temple proper. (It is not called the Womens' Court because women cannot enter any further, for women can indeed enter the Israelite's Court - and even the Priests' Court - when they need to present a sacrifice. It is called the Womens' Court because the Womens' Gallery is above it, looking down into it.)

The various sections of the Temple, as one enters on the east and proceeds westward, carry increasing holiness, meaning that only those purified from increasingly refined forms of defilement may enter them. In mystical terms, this means that a westward progression within the Temple precincts corresponds to an ascent through succeeding higher realms of spirituality.

But on the festivals, [Nukva] is face-to-face with netzach-hod-yesod [of Zeir Anpin], this being the mystical meaning of the phrase "and they will not see My face empty-handed" (Ex. 23:15).

Although this verse appears in the context of Passover, it is understood to apply to all three pilgrimage festivals, referring to the obligatory offerings [chagiga] that must be offered on these festivals.

[Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Taamei HaMitzvot; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."]

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.