Hakhel - הקהל - The Gathering

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)

 


In this study I would like to examine the Hakhel (Gathering) and it’s goal to produce awe of HaShem. The achievement of this purpose involves Torah and the uniting of the Jewish people, the Mashiach, and HaShem. The mitzva (commandment) of Hakhel is found in:

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 31:9-13 And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of HaShem, and unto all the elders of Israel. 10 And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles, 11 When all Israel is come to appear before HaShem thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Hakhel Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear HaShem your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: 13 And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear HaShem your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.

 

Rav Mordechai Yosef, in the classic sefer Mei HaShiloach, points out that the mitzva of Hakhel occurred only once every seven years, on the first Succoth of the nascent shmita cycle. Hakhel, which immediately follows the Shmita year, is but the first of the following six years.

 

The Shmita year prepares for the mitzva of Hakhel in the eighth year, when men, women and children gather in the Beit HaMikdash during the Holiday of Succoth. Shmita serves as a preparation for Hakhel very much like Friday prepares for Shabbat. The Mishna details the procedure for the reading:

 

Sotah 41a MISHNAH. WHAT WAS THE PROCEDURE IN CONNECTION WITH THE PORTION READ BY THE KING? AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE FIRST DAY OF THE FESTIVAL [OF TABERNACLES] IN THE EIGHTH, I.E., THE END OF THE SEVENTH, THEY ERECT A WOODEN DAIS IN THE TEMPLE COURT, UPON WHICH HE SITS; AS IT IS SAID, AT THE END OF EVERY SEVEN YEARS, IN THE SET TIME etc. THE SYNAGOGUE-ATTENDANT TAKES A TORAH-SCROLL AND HANDS IT TO THE SYNAGOGUE PRESIDENT, AND THE SYNAGOGUE-PRESIDENT HANDS IT TO THE [HIGH PRIEST'S] DEPUTY. HE HANDS IT TO THE HIGH PRIEST WHO HANDS IT TO THE KING. THE KING STANDS AND RECEIVES IT, BUT READS SITTING.

 

It is interesting to note that the Jerusalem Talmud in bringing the same Mishnah has a different version. Instead of stating that the ceremony of the hakhel should be on the second day of the festival of Succoth, it writes that the hakhel was on “the day after the end of  Succoth.[1]

 

The purpose of Hakhel, in the words of the scriptures, is: "In order that you may hear and in order that you may learn to fear the Lord your God".  This, too, is cited as the purpose of Matan Torah[2], where the entire nation congregated to hear the words of HaShem.

 

Were the Temple standing, we would observe the next septennial  Hakhel  assembly  in  5776. 

 

Hakhel, is the penultimate mitzva of the taryag mitzvot (number 612),[3] as counted by the  Sefer HaChinuch. The Sefer HaChinuch also writes, concerning any person who neglects this mitzva (for example a Jew who fails to attend or a King who fails to read the Torah) "...their punishment is very great, for this command is a fundamental pillar of the religion…”

 

The Talmud also speaks of the Hakhel mitzva:

 

Chagigah 3a "'Assemble the entire nation: men, women, and children' - men, to learn; women, to hear; and children, to give reward to those who brought them [to the assembly]."

 

The Mishna in Masekhet Sota 32a establishes that the Torah reading at hakhel was conducted specifically in Hebrew, by the King, while seated in the courtyard of the women.. As we shall se, Hakhel was a reenactment of the Sinai experience. We know that at Sinai, HaShem spoke simultaneously in all seventy languages and that the whole world heard HaShem speak. This suggests that Hakhel may have produced a similar experience whereby all those who attend will hear and understand.

 

In general, Talmudic and Midrashic sources[4] see the magnitude of the expression of the Divine presence as increasing in proportion to the amount of Jews gathered. This suggests that as we have a greater attendance of people, we get a greater manifestation of the Divine Presence. Note the following growth in the number of Jews who can attend the Temple services:

 

  1. We have all the males commanded to attend on the three pilgrimage festivals.
  2. We would expect greater atendance at the pilgrimage festivals during a Shmita year when no one could work the land.
  3. We would expect an even greater atendance at the pilgrimage festivals during a Yovel year when no one could work the land for a second year.
  4. We see every man, woman, and child commanded to attend Hakhel. (We also saw every man, woman, and child attending at Sinai.)

 

This suggests a form of crescendo which grows throughout the year and throughout the years, whereby the number of Jews increases, which causes a corresponding increase in the Divine presence. We would, therefore, reach the apex at the Hakhel of a Yovel year in the days of Mashiach.

 

The Hakhel was the culmination of seven years of mitzvot which were used as preparation for this final event. To begin to understand how these mitzvot fit into the Hakhel it is necessary to understand that there were three principle parts to the Hakhel:

 

  1. The Torah was to be read by the King. The focus is on the head.
  2. The Torah was to be heard by every man, woman, and child of the Jews and of those Gerim (proselytes and Noachides) in the land. The focus is on unity.
  3. The Torah was to be read in the courtyard of  the women, in the Beit HaMikdash, the Temple. The focus was on the nearness to HaShem.

 

With these three parts in mind, lets examine the other mitzvot which preceded Hakhel and see how they contributed to these three things.

 

In Creation

 

The mitzva of Hakhel can best be understood by examining the ideal which HaShem created in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). Adam HaRishon was a single human composed of male and female parts. In his loins were the souls of every human being who would ever live.

 

Adam HaRishon was created on Tishri 1, Rosh HaShanah. In a sense, the Sinai experience is a recreation of the Gan Eden experience. There are many similarities. Additionally, Gan Eden has always been, and continues to be located on the Temple mount in the place of the Beit HaMikdash.

 

Adam HaRishon became Adam and Chava. After HaShem separated Chava, Adam and Chava were commanded to unify themselves whilst walking with HaShem in the PaRDeS, the orchard, of Torah.

 

Shabbat

 

The Shabbat Shacharit (morning) prayers focus on unity of HaShem and our unification in Him. These prayers culminate in the reading of the weekly Torah seder. This Torah seder continually points to the hakhel at the end of the Shmita cycle.

 

Every seventh day we celebrate
Shabbat and are taught to use the “free time” to
hear the reading of the weekly portion and to enrich our knowledge of Torah.

 

Purim

 

The Purim Story in Esther documents the attempt by Haman to destroy every Jew. It also documents the free acceptance of the Torah given at Sinai and the unification of the Jewish people in the performance of teshuva and mitzvot. The three main observances of Purim, all comply with the theme of unity:

1. Gathering in synagogues for the reading of Megillat Esther (Torah),

2. Giving charity to the poor, and

3. Exchanging gifts of goodies with relatives, friends, and neighbors.

 

Pesach

 

The Maharal of Prague teaches that the Pesach offering represents oneness, unity. The Paschal lamb or sheep is a herding animal, an animal which associates with its flock. This one year old (signifying unity) animal may only be eaten by one who assigns himself to a group, and only in a single house or location. Even the structure of the meat must be retained, as the meat must be eaten roasted (roasting shrinks and unifies the meat, as opposed to stewing which breaks the meat apart), and a bone must not be broken in the meat, to retain bone structure. Thus the seder unifies Israel with the Torah when they recount the Haggada.

 

Sefirat HaOmer

 

Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the Omer, is what a Jew does as he counts the day till the receiving the Torah at Sinai. His counting reflects the inner growth of his soul as he actively seeks to join with the Jewish people and with HaShem.

 

For the Omer, we count “seven complete weeks[5]
and afterwards celebrate the fiftieth
day as a sacred festival.

 

Shavuot

 

Matan Torah at Shavuot, a unified Israel accepts HaShem as God and receives His Torah. In Shemot 19:2, the Torah uses the singular form of the verb "camped" (Vayichan), rather than the expected plural form. Since our people had risen to the level where they were thus "like one man, with one heart”, the singular form here becomes, for the first time, appropriate.

 

From Sinai onwards, every thought, word, or action in fulfillment of the Torah is both a connection with HaShem and a link with all other Jews. Every time we fulfill a mitzva we are therefore bonding with the Creator and also expressing the inner and eternal unity of the Jewish people.

 

The Rambam in Hilchot Chagigah [3:7] refers to Hakhel as "Yom Hakhel" [The Day of Hakhel]. Rav Hutner points out that if we take away the vowels of 'Yom Hakhel' it is precisely the same letters as 'Yom HaKahal' [the Day of the Congregation] which the Torah repeatedly uses [Devarim 9:10, 10:4, 18:16] to refer to the the standing at Mt. Sinai.

 

At the root of the term "Hakhel" that the Torah employs to describe this mitzva is the word "kahal." The word kahal is one of several words the Torah uses when discussing various groupings of the Jewish people. The Malbim and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch have inculcated within us the view, that there are no synonyms in Hebrew. It is, therefore, axiomatic, that if the Torah chooses to base the description of this mitzva on the word kahal, that the mitzva be specifically to recreate a kahal.

 

In Devarim 4:10, Moshe Rabbeinu relates that HaShem had commanded him to gather the nation for the giving of the Torah. In Devarim 9:10, Moshe calls the day of the giving of the Torah: "Yom Ha'Kahal." Obviously, the event of Hakhel is meant to be a re-enactment of the giving of the Torah.

 

This clearly connect the Hakhel to Shavuot. Yet, there is much more to connects these two dates.

 

Rav Hutner says that the essence of the ceremony of Hakhel is supposed to be the reenactment of the standing at Mt. Sinai. It is the reenactment of the giving of the Torah. The Accepting of the Torah is THE seminal event in Jewish History. We are to reenact the giving of the Torah every seven years in order to impress upon the people the importance of what Torah means to the Jewish People. We want the people to feel as though they have experienced another “giving of the Torah”.

 

An even more ambitious attempt to relate the content of the hakhel reading to the standing at Mt. Sinai theme is undertaken by Menachem Kasdan, in an article on this topic in the journal Gesher[6], where he detects a parallel between this reading and the process of conversion. In the Hilchot Isurei Bi’a section of Mishneh Torah[7], Maimonides outlines the procedure for dealing with a prospective convert. He writes that the Jewish court first attempts dissuading the Gentile, describing to him the persecution historically suffered by the Jewish people, and the hostility and discrimination with which it is often been treated by other nations. If the prospective convert persists, he is informed of the basic tenets of the Jewish faith, particularly the oneness of HaShem and the absolute rejection of pagan beliefs. From there the court proceeds to present the Gentile a sampling of Jewish law, particularly agricultural obligations, such as the required tithes and gifts to the poor. Finally, he is to read the section to which we referred earlier, in which Moshe promises blessing should the people obey the Torah, and calamity should they neglect their religious duties.

 

A careful look at the sections read at hakhel, as outlined by Maimonides[8], reveals a general correspondence between these sections and the court’s response to a prospective proselyte. The hakhel reading begins with the opening chapters of the Book of Devarim, which tell of some of Benei Yisrael’s experiences during their travels in the wilderness. Strong emphasis is placed in these chapters on the hostility displayed towards them by the nations they encountered,  Amalek, Edom, the Emorites, and the empire of Bashan. These chapters thus perhaps correspond to the court’s warning to the prospective convert of the animosity historically suffered by the Jewish people. The next sections read at hakhel are the first two chapters of the Shema service, which, of course, deal with the fundamental Jewish belief of HaShem’s oneness and the disastrous consequences of idolatry. From there the king skips to the section of “Aser Te’aser,” which begins with the laws of tithing and kind treatment to the underprivileged. The king continues with the next several chapters, which introduces numerous mitzvot from across the spectrum of Halacha, and concludes with the section of the blessings and curses that Moshe promises will befall the people as a result of their obedience or betrayal, respectively.

 

Quite possibly, then, the hakhel reading reflects this ceremony’s role as a formal reentry into the covenant with the Almighty. As Maimonides writes a chapter earlier in Hilchot Isurei Bi’a, the conversion process is modeled after the process underwent by Benei Yisrael at the time of the Exodus from Egypt and at Sinai. A proselyte enters the covenant through a procedure similar to the process required when that covenant was established initially. At hakhel, we reenact the standing at Mt. Sinai in order to “convert”, to reaffirm and renew our commitment to the covenant with HaShem. The king’s reading of selected portions of the Book of Devarim therefore correspond to the Jewish court’s warnings and instructions to a prospective convert[9].

 

Rabbi Mordechai Zaks, in his discussion of this topic[10], suggests that the Shmita year generates a sense of national unity that is indispensable for experiencing the revelation at Har Sinai. In one of the most famous passages in his Torah commentary, Rashi[11] cites the Midrash’s comment that Benei Yisrael encamped at Sinai “as one person, with one heart.” Benei Yisrael’s collective acceptance of the Torah and the establishment of a national covenant with the Almighty require a unity of mind and purpose. During the Shmita year, all agricultural activity is forbidden, and landowners must temporarily forfeit ownership over their fields. In effect, then, during the Shmita year, there is no economic competition or even any economic classes. Everyone shares precisely the same assets and fate, withdrawing from agricultural work and spending a year engaged in more spiritual endeavors. The social harmony and elimination of commercial rivalry is a necessary prerequisite to the standing at Mt. Sinai experience which the hakhel ceremony is intended to replicate.

 

Maimonides[12] also understands Hakhel as a re-acceptance of the Covenant at Sinai. Hakhel is also linked to Succoth (the Feast of Tabernacles), the most universal of our holidays which concludes the Rosh Hashanah festival period. Hakhel involves not only the Children of Israel but the entire Bnai Noach world as well, the strangers as well as the uncircumcised.

 

This is most reminiscent of the biblical vision of the End of Days, as recorded by the prophet Isaiah:

 

Yeshiyahu (Isaiah) 2:2-4 "And it shall come to pass in the End of Days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow to it. And many peoples shall go and say, 'Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the House of the G-d of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem, and He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore".

 

Hakhel

Har Sinai

"GATHER THE PEOPLE... in order that they may hear and in order that they MAY LEARN, and they WILL FEAR the Lord your God all the days you live on the land...."

"The day on which you stood... at Chorev, when God told me, 'GATHER THE PEOPLE and I shall make them hear My words, that THEY SHALL LEARN TO FEAR Me all their days which they live on the land, AND THEY SHALL TEACH THEIR CHILDREN."

 

In addition, the Sinaitic experience is also referred to as "the day of hakhel"  (Devarim 9:10 and 8:14).

 

Tisha B’Av

 

The dis-unity of Israel is reflected in the events of Tisha B’Av: The golden calf, the sin of the ten spies, and the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash because of baseless hatred. These will all be corrected when Tisha B’Av becomes a time of joy because the Mashiach is “born” who will be the Beit HaMikdash which will unify all Israel in the Living Torah.

 

Elul – Reconciliation Begins

 

Israel, as a nation, begins the yearly struggle for unity by reconciling with his brother in Elul. This reconciling is the first act of teshuvah and sets the stage for Israel’s reconcilliation with HaShem on Yom HaKippurim.

 

The Shalosh Regalim

 

The Shalosh Regalim, the three pilgrimage festivals, provide a focus on those Moedim (festivals) which physically unite Israel with HaShem in Yerushalayim.

 

Yom HaKippurim

 

Israel begins the yearly struggle for unity by reconciling with HaShem on Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonement, through teshuva.

 

On Yom HaKippurim Israel unites in fasting and selichot as be beseech HaShem to forgive our collective sins. Each speaks the sin as though it were his personally.

 

Succoth

 

The mitzva of Hakhel is described by both the Talmud Bavli and the Yerushalami as celebated either on the second day of Succoth, or just after the end of Succoth. This makes Succoth the festival which must contain significant understanding for the mitzva of Hakhel. Lets delve into this festival to see the connections with Hakhel:

 

Succoth comes at the end of the year:

 

Shemot (Exodus) 23:16 and the feast of harvest, the first-fruits of thy labours, which thou sowest in the field; and the feast of ingathering, at the end of the year, when thou gatherest in thy labours out of the field.

 

Succoth is only fifteen days into the new year which began on Rosh HaShanah, never the less, HaShem calls it the end of the year. This suggests that the end of the harvest year is the intended meaning. Indeed, this is intimated by the pasuk itself. Succoth is the end of the harvest year and the beginning of the calendar year. Succoth stands as a pivot point for the year.

 

The Midrash[13] explains that the mitzva of the lulav and etrog symbolizes the intrinsic unity of the Jewish people. We take these four species on Succoth. The fulfillment of this mitzva requires us to hold together either fruit or branches from four different species of trees, the date palm (lulav), the myrtle (hadas), the willow (aravot), and the citron (etrog).

 

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:42-43 speaks of booths, impermanent strucures built for shade during the wanderings in the wilderness, and Rabbi Eliezer who contends that the "booths" referred to in the verse are an allusion to the "clouds of glory" which accomanied the children of Israel in the desert[14].

 

Sukkah 11b That is satisfactory according to the authority who says that [the booths of the wilderness were] clouds of glory, but according to the authority who says [the Israelites] made for themselves real booths, what can one say? For it has been taught: For I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, These were clouds of glory, so R. Eliezer. R. Akiba says, They made for themselves real booths. Now this is satisfactory according to R. Eliezer, but according to R. Akiba, what can one say?

 

The Gaon of Vilna suggested a different reason for the timing of the mitzva of Succoth on the fifteenth of Tishri. He writes that with the sin of the golden calf the clouds of glory departed from the camp of the Israelites. When Moshe descended from Mount Sinai with the second tablets it was Yom HaKippurim (Tishri 10), on the eleventh of Tishri Moshe gathered the people and instructed them concerning the builing of the mishkan, the sanctuary, which was to memorialize the forgiveness granted on the previous day for the sin of the golden calf. On the twelfth and thirteenth of Tishri the Israelites brought their contributions for the building of the mishkan, on the fourteenth the artisans collected, assorted and organized these contributions, and on the fifteenth of Tishri, the first day of the festival of Succoth, they began to build the mishkan.

 

The Septennial Cycle

 

Israel begins the septennial, consisting of two cycles of three and a half years, Torah cycle on the first Shabbat after Simchat Torah. The goal of the Torah reading cycle is to unify Israel, around the world, in HaShem and His Torah. When the Babylonian Jews introduced the annual Torah lectionary cycle, they also arranged it so that it would conclude and recommence at the end of Succoth, the date on which we still celebrate Simchat Torah.

 

We know from the Talmud[15], that Torah can be learned on various levels: the simple pshat, hints or “remez”, the more complicated drash, and kabalistic explanations, “sod.”  If you take the first letters of all those words, you come up with the word PaRDeS, (peh, reish, dalet, samech) meaning "garden," or "paradise," as a hint to the Garden of Eden.

 

Israel finishes the first 3˝ year Torah cycle on Pesach to recall that the purpose of the Exodus was the unity of the Jewish people with the Torah.

 

Simchat Torah

 

Israel finishes the second 3˝ year Torah cycle on the Shemini Atzeret to recall that the purpose of Shemini Atzeret is to enjoy the presence of HaShem as a unified people. All Israel celebrates Simchat Torah in the Mishkan / Beit HaMikdash. All Israel relives the Sinai experience.

 

Chanukah

 

Chanukah, and the year of Hakhel. Both embody the concept of eternity, connecting them both with the future redemption. They are both related to eight: Chanukah is eight days long and Hakhel is the year after the Shmita, the “eighth” year.

 

עשרה בטבת - Asarah BeTevet

The Tenth of Tevet

 

The connection of Asarah BeTevet with the Hakhel year can be explained as follows: Asarah BeTevet began the siege on Jerusalem, the place in which the Hakhel was held. Hakhel expresses the complete state of the Jewish people. Gathering together “the entire nation, men, women, and children, shows the complete state of our people. Asarah BeTevet is connected with the complete state of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is only complete when it is surrounded by a wall (which grants it a higher status of holiness than the rest of Eretz Yisrael[16]) and when the Temple is standing. Furthermore, since Jerusalem is the capital and major city of the entire Eretz Yisrael, it follows that the complete state of Eretz Yisrael, is dependent on Jerusalem.

 

Thus, we can see the connection between Asarah BeTevet and Hakhel. This stresses that the complete state of Jerusalem and of Eretz Yisrael is connected with the complete state (the Hakhel) of the Jewish people, and also the complete state of Torah, for the purpose of Hakhel was to hear “all the words of this Torah”. In simple terms, the complete state of Eretz Yisrael will be when “all of its inhabitants dwell within,” i.e. when it is filled with Jews and filled with Torah and mitzvot.

 

In Tehillim

 

The division of Tehillim, Psalms, into five books corresponding to the sederim of the dual triennial cycles which make up the septennial cycle, points clearly to King David and alludes to the reading of the Torah at hakhel. Tehillim tends to bind the Jewish people together in that we recite Tehillim during times of stress when we need the support of the community.

 

The Shmita Year

 

One of the goals of the Shmita year is the freeing of slaves. This allowed the slave to be the same as the rest of Israel and to have the time to learn Torah. Another goal was the command to let the land be unworked in the Shmita year so that the rich and the poor were all gleaners. This set the stage for unity at the Hakhel in “eighth” year. HaShem promises abundant produce in the sixth year to feed the nation until the eighth year crops arrive. This means that at the beginning of the eighth year, all Israel had the leisure to learn torah. This is similar to the Sinai experience where manna was available.

 

Hakhel has an advantage over Shmita. It is the eighth year; and simultaneously it is the culmination of the seventh (Shmita) year “at the end (meaning culmination and perfection) of seven years.”

 

Thus we see that it is not that Hakhel follows Shmita, rather, the entire Shmita year serves as preparation for Hakhel.

 

The Hakhel

 

All Israel is unified into the body of Mashiach, the Living Torah. Mashiach, the Living Torah reads the Torah to a unified Israel, Adam HaSheni, the second Adam. There are three requirements: First, we have the formal commandment to assemble. Second, there is the actual reading, listening, and learning that is done at this assembly. The third aspect is the fulfillment of Hakhel's purpose, as the Torah writes: "In order that they hear, and in order that they learn to fear HaShem your Lord."

 

According to Maimonides,[17] the ceremony of Hakhel is "to prepare their hearts and to set their ears to listening, to hear in fear and awe and joy, in trembling, as on the day it was given at Sinai”. Because Sinai was an experience of Gan Eden we can also conclude that Hakhel is a re-experiencing of the experience of Gan Eden as we can see in the similarity of words from Sinai:

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:10 The day on which you stood before the Lord your God at Chorev [Sinai], when HaShem said to me, “Gather the nation to Me so that I may have them hear My words, that they will learn to fear Me all the days that they live on the land, and that they may teach their children.”

 

Maimonides indicates that the hakhel ceremony serves as a kind of reenactment of the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, the divine revelation at Sinai. Amidst his discussion of the laws of hakhel in his Mishneh Torah[18], he writes:

 

Proselytes who do not understand must set their hearts and lend their ears to listen with awe, fear and trembling joy, like the day on which it was given at Sinai. Even great scholars who know the entire Torah must listen with exceedingly intense concentration. And one who cannot hear should think this reading in his mind, because the Torah established it only to reinforce the true faith; and one should see himself as if he is now commanded with regard to it, and hears it from the mouth of the Almighty; for the king is a messenger conveying the words of the Almighty.

 

This brings us full circle:

 

Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 1:9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

 

The Yovel (the Jubilee) Year

 

The Yovel, the fiftieth year after seven Shmita cycles, is the ultimate conclusion to the triennial Torah cycle. The Yovel is also the year of hakhel and is an entire year where HaShem provides without our efforts. This, in turn, gives us the time to focus on out Torah studies after having been inspired by the hakhel.

 

For the Shmita and Yovel  we count “seven weeks of years[19]” and then “must sanctify the fiftieth year.”[20]

 

What Has Been Before…

 

Chazal teach that the world will endure for seven thousand years. The beginning of the eighth millennium will, therefore, correspond with the time of the hakhel and will picture the total unity of the Jewish people with Mashiach and HaShem.

 

The opening sentence of the Torah tells us that the worlds was created by a benevolent Deity to fulfill His grand plans. That first sentence, in its original Hebrew possesses a striking distinction.  Six of its seven words contain an aleph - א.  The aleph – א is not only the first letter of the alphabet, it also means one thousand (elef). 

 

בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ

 

Our Sages teach that first verse’s six alephs - א or thousands, to the six thousand years of human history starting from when Adam first spoke.  Furthermore, it links each of the six days of creation to its parallel millennium.

 

Chazal say that the son of David will actually come after the close of the seventh year of the Shmita cycle, i.e. in the eighth year.

 

The Zohar says: "HaShem, the Jewish people and Torah are one".

 

Rav Saadiah Gaon tells us, "Our Nation is not a Nation except through Torah".

 

* * *

 

The breastplate is a symbol of the unity of the children of Israel.

 

The Readings:

 

The Mishna[21] specifies various sections of the Book of Devarim as the selections read by the Jewish king during Hakhel.

 

The Rambam[22] lists the sequence of the chapters in Devarim which were read at Hakhel:

 

1 "From the beginning of the book of Devarim until the end of the parsha of 'Hear Oh Israel (Shema)'; Devarim 1:1 – 6:9

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:9 And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.

 

2. then he skips to 'And it will be if you will listen (V-haya im Shamoa)'

 

Devarim 11:13-21 (25) And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto My commandments which I command you this day, to love HaShem your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14  that I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. 15  And I will give grass in thy fields for thy cattle, and thou shalt eat and be satisfied. 16  Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; 17  and the anger of HaShem be kindled against you, and He shut up the heaven, so that there shall be no rain, and the ground shall not yield her fruit; and ye perish quickly from off the good land which HaShem giveth you. 18   Therefore shall ye lay up these My words in your heart and in your soul; and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. 19  And ye shall teach them your children, talking of them, when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 20  And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates; 21  that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, upon the land which HaShem swore unto your fathers to give them, as the days of the heavens above the earth.

 

3. then he skips to 'You shall surely tithe (aser t-aser)' and reads from 'You shall surely tithe' in sequence until the end of the 'Blessings and Curses' until the words 'besides the Covenant which He entered into with them at Horeb' and then he stops (u'posek)"

 

Devarim 14:22 – 28:69 These are the words of the covenant which HaShem commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which He made with them in Horev.

 

May we very speedily merit the ultimate Hakhel, when all Israel will assemble in the third Beit HaMikdash and hear Torah from the King Mashiach, Amen v’Amen!

 

* * *

 

This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:

 

Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501

 

Internet address:  gkilli@aol.com

Web page:  http://www.betemunah.org/

 

(360) 918-2905

 

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[1] Yerushalmi, Sotah 7:7

[2] see, e.g., Shemot 20:18

[3] The mitzva of writing a sefer Torah is a pivotal mitzva. It concludes the 613 mitzvot and, in a sense, it encompasses all the other mitzvot, because when we write a sefer Torah we are reminded of all the mitzvot contained in it. At the same time, being placed towards the end of the Torah, it is near the account of the creation of the world. The Midrash tells us, that the whole world was created for the sake of the Torah[3]. By writing a sefer Torah we demonstrate that we understand the purpose for which we have been created: to keep the Torah and its commandments.

[4] Bereshit Rabbah 48:7, Devarim Rabbah 7:2, Tanchuma Vayera 4, Midrash Tehilim 22:19, Otzar Ha-midrashim p. 222, Mishna Avot 3:6, Talmud Bavli Tractate Berachot 6a, et al.

[5] Vayikra 23:15

[6] Yeshiva University, 1969

[7] chapter 14

[8] Hilchot Chagigah 3:3

[9] http://www.maimonidesheritage.org//ContentFolder/4/Vayelekh.pdf

[10] in the journal Torah She-be-al Peh, vol. 2, p. 73

[11] Shemot 19:2

[12] Laws of Hagiga, chapter III, 1-7, MAIMONIDES

[13] Vayikra Rabbah 30:12

[14] Succah 11b

[15] Chagigah 14b

[16] The Rambam, Hilchot Beit HaBechirah 6:15, writes that sacrifices of lesser sanctity and Maaser Sheni (foods that must be eaten within Yerushalayim) can be eaten in Yerushalayim if there is no wall because when it was first sanctified it was sanctified for all time to come. Nevertheless a) its sanctification came about because of the wall and b) the full state of holiness exists only when the wall is intact. Note the Responsa of the Maharit, Chosen Mishpat 37; Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 362.

[17] Hilchot Chagigah 3:6

[18] Hilchot Chagigah 3:6

[19] Vayikra 25:8

[20] Vayikra 25:10

[21] Sota 41a

[22] Hilchot Chagiga 3:3