The Jewish people had sinned, and their future stood in the balance. G-d's initial plans to destroy the people were thwarted by the intense prayers of Moshe, and it was on Yom Kippur that our covenant with G-d was reestablished. And on the very next day, the construction of the Mishkan began.
One of the hallmarks of the Western world is its inclusiveness. Great attempts are made to make all feel included, no matter their ability or their lifestyle. This is a most beautiful sentiment. Society has become more sensitive to the needs of people who not so long ago were shunned.
A question I have often been asked by non-observant Jews runs as follows: Since cars were not yet invented when the Torah was given, how can one claim that Biblical law prohibits driving? While the answer to that question is relatively simple--it is just a modern application of the Biblical verse, “Do not light a fire in all your places on Shabbat”--the idea behind the question has much merit. Shabbat, as described in the Bible, has little resemblance to how it is observed in practice.
With the beginning of selichot season (at least for Ashkenazim), we turn our thoughts to the notion of teshuva. This most difficult concept allows past deeds to be forgiven and at times, even to be turned into mitzvot. But no matter how much we may try, we cannot just undo the past (Yoma 86b). We can learn from the past and, by learning from our past mistakes, we can be better people moving forward--hence, the power of teshuva--but we can't just erase the past.
“Even though the gates of prayer are closed, the gates of tears are never closed”. With the destruction of the Temple--“the house of prayer for all the nations”--prayer is no longer enough. Rather, we must cry out to G-d with all our heart.
Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the Yamim Tovim, especially in Temple times, was the coming together of Jews from all walks of life to celebrate together in Jerusalem. “Rava expounded: What is the meaning of the verse: ‘How beautiful are thy steps in sandals, O prince's daughter’. [It means:] How beautiful are the feet of Israel when they go up on the festival pilgrimage” (Chagiga 3a). When Jews join together--whatever the reason--there is great beauty. When they do so to revel in the Divine presence, the beauty is enhanced.
The mitzvah of aliyah laregel--going up to Jerusalem on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot--was a central feature of these holidays of national celebration. While we now have the ability to come to Jerusalem for Yom Tov, and many do just that, we can no longer bring the festive sacrifices associated with each holiday. It is this mitzvah of that opens Masechet Chagigah.