At the end of every seven years…on the Festival of Sukkot following the Sabbatical year…All of Israel will come and appear before the Lord, your G‑d, in the place that He will choose…You shall read the Torah before all of Israel…Assemble the people: the men, the women, the children…” (Deuteronomy 31:10-12)
It’s this year! That’s right! The mitzvah (commandment) of Hakhel, when the entire Jewish people would gather in Jerusalem on the second day of Sukkot to hear the King of Israel read portions of the Torah (all from the Book of Deuteronomy), should be taking place this year! That’s because this year marks the conclusion of the Shmita (Sabbatical) year in the Land of Israel.
Some history: As mentioned, Hakhel involved the gathering of the entire Jewish nation in the Holy Temple. A large wooden platform was erected in middle of the Temple courtyard. The king would ascend the platform, and after a brief ceremony, he would begin reading designated portions of the Torah. In years when there was no king, a different leader would be honored with the reading. Various blessings and prayers were recited. It was a very joyous event. It is taught that the event was so powerful that the inspiration lasted seven years until the next time Hakhel was performed.
What is the significance of Hakhel? What does it represent? How can we observe Hakhel today?
It is taught that Hakhel was intended to be a re-enactment of the Revelation at Mount Sinai. How so?
It was the only event that required the attendance of every single Jew, just as was the case at Mount Sinai so many years earlier. An illustrious leader would take the role of Moses in reading and teaching the Torah. Being that it took place at the Holy Temple, the House of God, God was there too, just as He was at Sinai! It was simply an awesome experience.
Pay Attention to Your Children’s Environment
The question is asked: What was the purpose of bringing small children, even babies, to the Hakhel event? Sure, maybe it was because no parent was able to find a good babysitter, since absolutely everyone went. But maybe there is a better reason.
One of the answers is that a person’s very presence at Hakhel, even that of a child or anyone else who could not understand the words of Torah that were being read, would cause him or her to “learn to fear the Lord Your God.”
Yes, our children are very affected by the environment in which we place them. As parents, we have to make sure to make the right choices for our children and see to it that they are influenced only by good people and in the right atmosphere. This is true right from the cradle. Osmosis is a very powerful force.
Although we no longer have a Holy Temple (may it be rebuilt soon!), we can keep the message of Hakhel alive. The Hakhel year in general, and the holiday of Sukkot in particular, is a perfect time to focus on unity: doing everything we can to bring people together, just as it was done in the Holy Temple and at Mount Sinai. We should put more effort and energy into teaching Torah to one and all: men, women and children. And as parents, we should be careful how we educate our children and to their environment.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin
Rabbinic Director, United with Israel