Sunday, October 02, 2005

Vayelech - Mitzva of Hakhel


This weeks parsha talks about the Mitzvah of Hakhel.

Devarim Perek 31 Pasuk 9

"Moses wrote this Torah and gave it to all the Kohanim, the sons of Levi, the bearers of the Ark of the covenant of Hashem, and to all the elders of Israel.

Moses commanded them saying, "At the end of seven years, at the time of the Sabbatical year, during the Succos festival, when all Israel comes to appear before Hashem, your G-d, in the place that He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears, Gather together the people - the men, the women, and the small children, and your stranger who is in your cities - so that they will hear and so that they will learn, and they shall fear Hashem, your G-d, and be careful to perform all the words of this Torah. And their children who do not know - they shall hear and they shall learn to fear Hashem, your G-d, all the days that you live on the land to which you are crossing the Jordan, to possess it."

The Rambam [Hilchos Chagiga 3:3] lists the sequence of the chapters in Devorim that were read at Hakhel: Read "From the beginning of the book of Devorim until the end of the parsha of 'Shma' [Hear Oh Israel]. Then read 'V-haya im Shamoa' [And it will be if you will listen], followed by 'aser t- aser' [You shall surely tithe]. Then, continue in sequence until the end of the 'Blessings and Curses' until the words 'besides the Covenant which He entered into with them at Chorev' and then stop (u'posek).

Once every seven years - on the first day of Chol HaMoed of Succos that followed the Sabbatical Year - the entire nation was commanded to come together at the Temple to listen to the king read to them from Deuteronomy. He read from the beginning of the Book to the end of the first paragraph of the Shema (6:9), the second paragraph of the Shema (11:13-21), and 14:22-28:69.

Many ask the question "Why davka after the Shemittah year are these passages read?" I can tell you my own personal revelation. During the Shemittah year, many of the Mitzvoth of the Torah were suspended. There is no Maaser, there is no Maaser Sheni or Maaser Ani. There is no Bikurim. There is no Leket Shikcha and Peah. In the Shemittah year we are all equal and the the fields are open for all to take. All fruits are hefker. It is a year where all our established givens of property, mine vs yours are suspended because all belongs to Hashem. For a year it was great. It was fun. But frankly after a year we've had enough. We appreciate the Mitzvoth of mine and yours and setting aside for the Leviim a tithe. These passages that the king reads are precisely the passages that relate to private ownership of those that own property and those that don't. These are the laws of tithes and gifts to the Cohaninim, Leviim, converts, widow and orphans. The Torah takes on a whole new meaning because we now have first hand knowledge of what it's like when all property rights are in limbo and fused under everything belonging ultimately to the Rebbono Shel Olam. These Mitzvoth of the Torah are not relevant in the Shemittah year. Our appreciation of the Torah is now magnified many times over because we've experienced living life without these Mitzvoth. We are like a Baal Teshuva whose love of Torah is so great because he/she knows what it's like to live without certain Mitzvoth and the chaos that results. We are born again at Har Sinai and are mekabel the Torah again with love. When we keep Shemittah properly G-d would not have to send the Goyim to force us to assimilate only to perhaps generations later make us alive once again as a Baal Teshuva. Being a Baal Teshuva is a direct consequence of keeping Shemitta.

Why are all men, women and children told to come? My experience gave me the understanding that all men, women and children experienced life without certain Mitzvoth.

My father A"h used to say "You'll learn the hard way".

So don't clean your knapsack. You'll see what happens. Sometimes it takes a really, really messy knapsack to appreciate an orderly one. G-d kivyachol gives us a year reprieve to have that messy knapsack to the point when we will crave for the orderly one. And that ultra neat kid who is obsessed with an orderly knapsack will find true freedom to simply let loose and for the sake of the Mitzva loosen up. Now that's freedom as well. It's a topsy turvy year. There will be first hand knowledge of Torah by even very small children who were allowed to pick fruits without asking permission. Now they will need to relearn the correct way to live when it's not a shemittah year.
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