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10 Moses commanded them, saying, "At the end of seven years, at the time of the Sabbatical year, during the Sukkot festival,
11 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,
12 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.

(Devarim, Deuteronomy 31: 10-12)

Moshe introduces one of the last commandments in the Torah, the Mitzvah of Hakheil, (literally - gathering) - the gathering of the entire Jewish people.

In Vayikra, Leviticus (25:1-7), we read about how Eretz Yisroel is governed by a seven-year agricultural cycle. During the seventh year, the Shmita (Sabbatical) year, no work may be done in the fields. The time that would otherwise be devoted to material concerns, are dedicated to Torah study and spiritual development.

At the conclusion of this period, the entire Jewish people assembled in Yerushalayim, (Jerusalem), "the place which Hashem chose," during the Sukkot Yom Tov (holiday). On the first day of Chol Hamoed (the Intermediate Days of the Yom Tov), the Kohanim (priests) urged the people to gather in the Bait Hamikdash (Holy Temple).

Tosefta Sotah (7:8) relates how Hakheil was announced by trumpet blasts:

"On that day, the Kohanim stood at all the closed and open places [of Yerushalayim] with golden shofars in their hands. They sounded the shofars repeatedly."

A high wooden platform was constructed in the Ezrat Nashim (Women's Courtyard - the outer courtyard of the Bait Hamikdash) upon which the king read selected inspirational portions of Devarim, (Deuteronomy)* to the people. At the conclusion of the reading, he recited seven blessings**, praising Hashem for causing His presence to dwell in Eretz Yisroel.

[*The king read from the beginning of Devarim to the end of the first paragraph of the Sh'ma (6:9), the second paragraph of the Sh'ma (11:13-21), and 14:22 to 28:69. (Talmud Sotah 41a). These passages are all on the general subject of allegiance to Hashem, the covenant, and reward and punishment. As you can imagine, this was a deeply moving event for Klal Yisroel.]

[**The seven blessings are:
1) R'tzay / Accept favorably... 2) Modim Anachnu /We bow... 3)Ata B'Chartanu / You chose us from all the nations... 4) A blessing for the continued existence of the Bait Hamikdash, ending Hashochain B'Tzion /He who dwells in Tzion 5) A blessing for the continuation of the kingship 6) A blessing that Hashem accept the service of the Kohanim favorably 7) The king's own tefilla, ending Boruch Shomaya Tefilla / Blessed be He who listens to prayers.]

During Shmita, the Sabbatical year, Bnei Yisroel had dedicated the major portion of their energies to Torah study. Then, from Rosh Hashana to Sukkot, they were preoccupied with the festive season and the service associated with it. After the Sukkot holiday, they returned to their homes and their worldly pursuits. The Hakheil gathering served as a climax for these efforts, and provided inspiration for the following years.

At the Hakheil gathering, the Kohanim brought the Torah scroll to the Kohain Gadol (High Priest), who presented it to the king as he stood. The participation of these two individuals conveyed an important lesson. There are three crowns: the crown of royalty, the crown of Kehuna (priesthood), and the crown of Torah. In the Hakheil experience, both the Kohain Gadol and the king demonstrate that the Torah is supreme, above the other crowns.

Talmud Chagigah (3a) relates:

"The Men" - Why did they come? "To learn."

"The Women" - Why did they come? "To hear."

"The Children" - Why did they come? "To give reward to those who brought them."

Intellectually, the people responded to the Hakheil experience in different ways, as indicated by this Talmudic passage. However, regardless of these differences, the gathering left a powerful emotional impact on all the participants. In Hilchot Chagigah (3:7), the Rambam writes:

"[This experience] was ordained by the Torah to strengthen true faith. Each individual felt as if he was just commanded to observe it by Hashem [Himself]."

The Torah specifically obligates women to take part in this Mitzvah: Although women are generally exempt from performing Mitzvot associated with a specific time, an exception was made in this instance. The inspiring effect of Hakheil was necessary for women, too.

The commentaries note the importance of the children's participation.

Tosafot (Chagigah ibid) comments that the mitzva of Hakheil is the Biblical source for our bringing even young children to the Synagogue. (provided that they are not soiled and do not disturb the service).

Minchah Gedolah relates that children told each other:

"I remember when my father took me to Yerushalayim. We joined the huge crowd in the Bait Hamikdash and the king read the Torah to us."

Such an experience certainly motivated children to "learn to be in awe of Hashem."

At what age did the children participate in Hakheil? Ramban notes that infants were not required to participate. A child was not obligated to attend until he could understand and learn from the experience.

The Maharsha does not accept this view. He maintains that if it was physically possible for a child to participate, he was required to attend. Even if no cognitive impression would remain, the experience would subconsciously shape his character and spur him to greater Torah practice.

Both perspectives are relevant in educating our children, though one has generally prevailed. On one hand, Sefer Chasidim sternly warns against bringing children to the synagogue lest they disturb the worship of the adults. Nevertheless, it has always been customary to bring children to synagogue as soon as they are capable of maintaining decorum. The impressions created by these early experiences play a major role in the development of the child's Jewish commitment.

The Talmud relates that the mother of one of the Mishnaic Sages (Rabbi Yehoshua) used to bring his cradle to the study hall, so that he could absorb the sounds of Torah study from infancy. In modern times, it has become acknowledged that the time to inculcate values in children is from their earliest youth, and especially by the example of parents and others who sincerely strive for the ideals they preach. Thus, for bringing their children to Hakheil, parents deserved to be rewarded, for they demonstrated that the Torah is precious to them.

The Nesivot in his sefer on Chumash, Nachalat Yaakov, is puzzled by the Talmud Chagigah's unusual answer - that the reason for bringing small children to the Bait Hamikdash for Hakheil is "To give reward to those who brought them."

He asks:

If all the adults must be in the Bait Hamikdash for the mitzva of Hakheil, where will all the children be? Should you leave them at home alone and unsupervised'? Hakheil is not like the yearly Purim reading of Megillat Esther, where the mother and father can go to shul in two shifts so there is always someone to watch the children. There is only one reading of Hakheil, and everyone has to be there. So you have to bring the children anyway. Why is there such a great reward for doing something that we have to do anyway?

The Nesivot answers that the Talmud is telling us that when there is something you have to do anyway in order to fulfill a mitzva, that deed itself is a mitzva. Though bringing the children is necessary, Hashem is telling us that if we need to do it anyway, then it becomes an essential part of our own Avodat Hashem, and the Torah tells us that we will be rewarded for doing it.

Similarly, says the Anaf Yosaif, the Talmud cited above shows Hashem's love for the Jewish people. Hashem converted the necessity into a "mitzva"; that is, if parents brought the children l'shaim shamayim - because He so commanded, they would gain extra reward.

Source: Meam Loez, The Torah Anthology

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