INSIGHT: Hakhel for Tots!

Hakhel – the Awesome Experience

Hakhel – the Awesome Experience

Moshe announced, “At the end of every seven years, during the Festival of Sukkos that follows the Shemitah-year, when all of you will come to appear before HaShem, the king shall read this Torah before all Bnei Yisrael. Hakhel! Assemble the people: the men, the women, the children.”

Now “Hakhel” your thoughts (that’s “gather your thoughts), and get ready to learn all about Hakhel:

The Time

It’s the 16th day of Tishrei, the second day of Sukkos, after the Shemitah/Sabbatical year of rest. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have just passed, and everyone has had a super-spiritual experience, repenting and connecting to HaShem.

The farmers have just spent a year away from their farms. Instead of plowing, planting, and harvesting, they had been deeply engrossed in Torah study and prayer. It would be another year before their fields would produce produce (did you know that those two words are pronounced differently?), but they were all confident that HaShem would miraculously provide for them, just as He had promised.

The Place

Jews from all over Eretz Yisrael had gathered to spend the joyous holiday of Sukkos in the Beis HaMikdash, the holiest and most beautiful of all places. The gigantic courtyard was filled with a sea of humanity.

The Setting

Standing on a specially built platform of wood, the King of Israel, wearing his royal crown, was surrounded by the Kohen Gadol, Torah scholars and plenty of other VIPs (Very Important People). The king was about to read from his very own personal Sefer Torah to the large crowd.

The People

Similar to Matan Torah at Mt. Sinai, everyone had to be there, and this means EVERYONE – men and women, from the greatest of scholars to the simple water-carriers and wood choppers. Even the smallest of children had come to witness the special event.

In the words of the Rambam:

“Everyone, even great scholars, are required to listen carefully [to the Torah words of the king], with awe, respect and JOYFUL reverence and trepidation, just like it was on the day the Torah was given at Sinai.”

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Chagigah, Chapter 3 Halachah 6

The Build Up

On that special morning, Kohanim would circulate throughout the city of Jerusalem with trumpets — just like at Mt. Sinai, where HaShem Himself blew the holiest of trumpets – the great Shofar. When Bnei Yisrael heard the blasts of the trumpets, they knew the time had come for the special moment. Excitedly, they would hurry up to Har HaBayis (the Temple Mount), and take their place in the giant courtyard that was quickly filling up.

Soon enough, they would witness an awesome sight: a group of very important men slowly passing a Torah scroll from one to another. Excitement mounted until it finally reached the Kohen Gadol, who handed it to the king himself.

The Person

Who would read the Torah to the nation?

The King was the natural choice. Besides for being HaShem’s chosen representative to the people and an impressive figure, he was used to reading Torah. If you recall, back in Parshas Shoftim, the king had the special Mitzvah of writing a Torah of his own, as the Torah itself says, “to read all the days of his life, so that he would learn to fear HaShem his G-d.” In addition, the king had another Sefer Torah that he kept in his treasury.

The Reading

A hush would fall over the massive crowd as the king would begin to read inspirational sections of the Torah, from the Book of Devarim, including the Ten Commandments and the Shema Yisrael. After all, what part of the Torah is better suited than Devarim to teach the people how to live a G-dly and inspired life?

After the king would finish reading, every single person felt uplifted, inspired, united, and focused. Their souls were recharged with enough Torah-energy to last them for another seven years until the next Hakhel.

The Great Reward!

Hakhel – such holiness, such togetherness, such excitement and such awe. Indeed, it was an amazing experience and the reward was awesome… it’s like Matan Torah all over again!

Let’s conclude with the words of the Rambam:

HaShem gave the Mitzvah of Hakhel for the sole purpose of strengthening the true faith. [During Hakhel] one should see himself as if he is NOW being commanded by HaShem!

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Chagigah, Chapter 3 Halachah 6

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Hakhel for Tots!

How about the little kids… did they attend the grand Hakhel gathering? They sure did!

The Talmud asks a short and sweet question: “Why bring them?”

To make a “short question long”:

It’s understood why the adults were commanded to go to the Beis HaMikdash to hear the king read the Torah. But why bring the little, teeny, tiny tots? After all, they can’t understand the Torah words the king reads. They’ll just be running around, making noise and disturbing!

The answer the Talmud gives is also short, but quite mysterious:

“In order to give reward to the ones who brought them.”

What kind of reward?

Perhaps our great Sages are teaching us an important lesson – by making Hakhel such an incredible experience, even young children will be affected for the better, growing up to be stronger, more inspired, and committed Jews.

And this is the greatest reward any parent could possibly want, the gift of Nachas. Nachas… it’s that breath of satisfaction with a big smile on the face of a parent, as if to say, “Ahhhh, my children are making me and HaShem so very proud…”

But honestly, what can a little baby gain from this Hakhel event?

A lot.

Did you ever hear of a great sage named Rabbi Yehoshua? When he was a baby, his mother used to take him in his cradle and put him in the Shul so that he should listen to the sweet sounds of Torah study. Guess what? Her plan worked. Her little baby grew up to be one of the greatest Torah scholars of all times!

What we see and hear as little tots stays with us for a very long time. And being at Hakhel is certainly the kind of thing that can affect even the youngest of minds.

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