Thursday, October 1, 2015

Parashat V’zot Habracha 5776 From Sinai to Jerusalem

Echoes of Eden
 Rabbi Ari Kahn
Parashat V’zot Habracha 5776
From Sinai to Jerusalem

In the final parashah of the Torah, Moshe takes leave of his people by blessing them:

And this is the blessing with which Moshe, the man of God, blessed the children of Israel [just] before his death. He said: "God came from Sinai and shone forth from Seir to them; He appeared from Mount Paran … (Devarim 32:2)

As a preface to the blessings he is about to bestow upon them, Moshe makes reference to two specific geographical locations, two places that have been mentioned before but whose significance he does not explain:  Se’ir and Paran. Rashi, drawing upon earlier traditions[1], fills in the blanks for us:

…and shone forth from Se’ir to them: [Why did He come from Se’ir?] Because God first offered the children of Esav [who dwelled in Se’ir] that they accept the Torah, but they did not want [to accept it].

…from Mount Paran: [Why did God then come from Paran?] Because He went there and offered the children of Yishmael [who dwelled in Paran] to accept the Torah, but they [also] did not want [to accept it]. (Rashi, Devarim 32:2)
Rashi, always a sensitive reader of the text, explains these cryptic references to long-forgotten places through the application of a well-known tradition that has clear textual grounding: Yishmael, son of Hagar and Avraham, “settled in the Paran wilderness” after he and his mother were banished from Avraham’s tent (Bereishit 21:21), while Esav’s domain in Se’ir was well-known to this generation of Israelites, who had been instructed to steer well clear of the inheritance given to the other son of Yitzchak (Devarim 2:5). Rashi deftly weaves the textual associations of Se’ir and Paran together with the tradition regarding their unwillingness to accept the Torah: Each of these sons of Avraham had been given the opportunity to become the People of the Book, as it were, but each had rejected the offer when they found out what was involved.

This approach stands in stark contrast to the approach of the Children of Israel. At the foot of Mount Sinai, when offered the Torah, they responded without hesitation:  “Na’aseh v’nishma” – “we will do and we will hear”. They accepted the Torah “sight unseen”, as it were, without question, without consideration of the pragmatics, of the demands that their acceptance of this Divine gift would entail.

The relationship between God and the Children of Israel is not dependent upon the content of the Torah; rather, the Torah is an expression of the unique relationship between them. This relationship, also described by Rashi, in the verse that prefaces Moshe’s parting blessings:

And this is the blessing with which Moshe, the man of God, blessed the children of Israel [just] before his death. He said: "God came from Sinai…’
He came out toward them when they came to stand at the foot of the mountain, as a bridegroom goes forth to greet his bride, as it is said, “[And Moshe brought the people forth] toward God” (Shmot 19:17). We learn from this that God came out toward them. (Rashi, Devarim 32:2)

In a sense, when the Jews accepted the Torah, they entered into a covenant with God, taking a vow similar to those of marriage. When a man and woman are wed, they do not know what fortune (or perhaps misfortune) awaits; their future is a book that is as yet unwritten. Their marriage is not based upon any assurance of what the content of that book will be; it is based upon their love for one another, and the decision that they wish to share the journey into the unknown. Rashi contrasts the pragmatic relationship, the aborted relationship between God and the nations that live in Se’ir and Paran, with the loving relationship entered into by those who declared “na’aseh v’nishma”, who had no expectation of reading the content of the book before making the loving commitment to the future of their relationship. Esav and Yishmael demanded to read the fine print before entering into the covenant; what they read seemed to them excessively demanding, and they declined God’s offer. The sons of Yaakov, on the other hand, had complete trust in the One who had offered them the covenant, and wanted nothing more than the loving relationship that this covenant would foster.

There may be a deeper level to this teaching: The names of the two protagonists, Esav and Yishmael, are suspiciously similar to the two words said by the children of Israel, na’aseh v’nishma (we will do we will listen). Taking careful note of the roots of these Hebrew words unlocks layers of meaning that might be overlooked in translations: The word na’aseh (we will do) shares the root asah with the name of Yitzchak’s son Esav, while nishma (we will listen) shares its root, shama, with the name Yishmael.[2]

There are several conclusions that we might draw from this etymological lesson: On the one hand, we might see within it an emphasis on the fidelity of the Jews versus the hesitation of those who perhaps might lay claim to some part of the inheritance of Avraham: The Children of Israel succeeded, in declaring na’aseh v’nishma, where the children of Esav and Yishmael had failed. Furthermore, we may say that in using these precise words, the Children of Israel channeled the spiritual power and potential that the others had forfeited.

On the other hand, as we approach the final verses of the Five Books of Moshe - and begin again, returning to Genesis, to Bereishit, to Creation, perhaps there is a new hope. All of mankind was created in the image of God; the entire world was created with spiritual potential. The message of the last chapter of Devarim leads directly to the message of the first chapter of Bereishit: those who succeeded in creating this unique, loving bond with God, and those who failed. We are given the opportunity to pause and wonder, to pause and hope, that the realty of the past does not dictate the destiny of the future. We do not rest on the laurels of the blessings of V’Zot HaBrachah and the knowledge that our relationship with God is unique; instead, we wait for the day that all peoples of the earth will embrace the word of God and live in tranquility.

Also the strangers that join themselves to God to serve Him and to love the name of God, to be His servants I will bring them to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon My altar, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus declares the Almighty God who gathers the dispersed of Israel: Yet I will gather others to him, beside those that are gathered. (Yishayahu 56:6-8)

Chazak Chazak V’nitchazek!

[1] See Sifri Dvarim V’zot Habracha Piska 343.
[2] This teaching is found in the commentary of the Vilna Gaon in his Aderet Eliyahu, Dvarim 32:2, and in numerous places in the writings of the Hid”a, who attributes the idea to the Torat Haim (authored by R. Abraham Hayyim ben R. Naftali Tzvi Hirsch Schor, d. 1632) commentary to Talmud Bavli Avoda Zara 2b.

                                               Echoes of Eden

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sukkot 5776 Gatherings

  Echoes of Eden
  Rabbi Ari Kahn
Sukkot 5776
(Hakahel and Chag Haasif)

Toward the end of the Torah, a rare commandment is presented; it is called Hak’hel, and refers to a mass gathering of the entire nation:
Moshe then gave them the following commandment: At the end of every seven years, on the occasion of the Shmitah, on the festival of Sukkot, …' you must read this Torah before all Israel, so that they will be able to hear it. You must gather together the people, the men, women, children and proselytes from your settlements, and let them hear it. They will thus learn to be in awe of the Almighty your God, carefully keeping all the words of this Torah.  (Devarim 31:10-12)
Every seven years, a public gathering is to be held, a mass rally with the Torah at its center. At this event the Torah is to be read aloud so that all the people can hear, learn, and be inspired by the word of God. The image is exciting, energizing; what a wonderful mitzvah this must have been!
And yet, the timing specified in Moshe’s instructions is intriguing: Why is this mitzvah fulfilled only once every seven years? Why at the end of the Shmitah year? Why specifically on the holiday of Sukkot?
On the one hand we may posit that during the Shmitah year, when all farming was suspended, the vast majority of society became full-time “yeshiva students”. During their “sabbatical” from the arduous tasks and inflexible schedule of agricultural life, farmers were finally able to devote the time and energy to Torah study that they sorely lacked during the other six years of the cycle.[1] At the culmination of a year of study, the Hak’hel “rally” is a fitting final chord, a sort of closing ceremony for the year’s spiritual and intellectual endeavors.
While this may explain the timing of Hak’hel at the end of the Shmitah year, it does not explain the connection with the Sukkot festival. Although Sukkot is one of the three yearly festivals on which pilgrimage to Jerusalem is required, it is, in and of itself, a holiday replete with ceremony. Why add this additional mitzvah to an already-laden festival?
The Jewish holidays reflect the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel, as well as the historical and theological foundations of Judaism. In fact, the festival we know as Sukkot is first introduced in the Torah[2] by its agricultural name, The Festival of the Harvest, without mention of its historical/theological significance. Interestingly, The Festival of the Harvest is presented in the context of the laws of Shmitah:
You may plant your land for six years and gather its crops. But during the seventh year, you must leave it alone and withdraw from it. The needy among you will then be able to eat [from your fields] just as you do, and whatever is left over can be eaten by wild animals. This also applies to your vineyard and your olive grove. (Shmot 23:11)… Keep the Festival of Matzahs. Eat matzahs for seven days, as I commanded you, during the prescribed time in the spring, since this is when you left Egypt. (Shmot 23:15) [Also keep] the Reaping Festival of the first fruits of your produce that you planted in the field. [There is also] the Harvest Festival at the end of the year, when you gather your produce from the field. (Shmot 23:16)
The historical/theological character of The Festival of Sukkot celebrates some very particular aspects of the Exodus[3]: When the Israelites left Egypt, they lived in the wilderness for forty years, protected and sustained by God. The huts we erect on Sukkot commemorate this spiritual and physical dependence on God, the temporary abodes of the desert and the Clouds of Glory with which God shielded us from harm.[4] As such, this festival could just as easily have been celebrated at any time of the year. On the other hand, the agricultural character of the holiday places it firmly at the end of the agricultural cycle, when the harvest is gathered from the fields.[5] This is the aspect of the festival referred to as Hag HaAsif, the holiday of gathering.
With this latter aspect of the festival in mind, the selection of Sukkot in the year immediately following Shmitah as the holiday most appropriate for observing Hak’hel becomes far more intriguing. During the Shmitah year, nothing is planted, and anything that grows on its own is made ownerless[6]:
God spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai, telling him to speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a sabbath to God. For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops, but the seventh year is a sabbath of sabbaths for the land. It is God's sabbath during which you may not plant your fields, nor prune your vineyards. Do not harvest crops that grow on their own and do not gather the grapes on your un-pruned vines, since it is a year of rest for the land. [What grows while] the land is resting may be eaten by you, by your male and female slaves, and by the employees and resident hands who live with you. All the crops shall [also] be eaten by the domestic and wild animals that are in your land. (Vayikra 25:1-7)
What sort of harvest festival can we possibly observe if there is nothing left in the fields to gather? How can we celebrate by gathering up our produce if all the produce has been declared ownerless? What can the farmer bring to the Beit HaMikdash if he did not work the fields all year, and anything that might have grown has been consumed by any and all takers? Surely, the scheduling of Hak’hel at the end of the sabbatical year is quite precise,[7] and is intended to address these very issues. Rather than rejoicing, together with his family, with the produce he gathers from his fields, the farmer has shared his produce with one and all throughout the seventh year. Now, instead of gathering the bounty of the fields, the people are gathered together. Rather than rejoicing with the physical fruits of the year’s labor, the festival will celebrate the fruits of the year’s spiritual and intellectual labor.
By observing Hak’hel at the end of the Shmitah year, specifically on Sukkot, we celebrate a different kind of Harvest Festival: On this very rare opportunity, we are able to more readily identify the agricultural aspects of Sukkot, the aspects encapsulated in the name Hag HaAsif, precisely because the harvest it celebrates is not agricultural. At the end of the Shmitah year, Hak’hel enables us to make a “siyum” as it were, for a year of study and spiritual growth. The opportunity presented by Hak’hel allows us to draw inspiration from the passing Shmitah year, to allow the kinship and mutual responsibility that lie at the heart of the laws of Shmitah to inspire us all for the next six years, and to allow the Torah that we learned during the sabbatical year to take root in our hearts.[8]

[1] See Hizkuni Dvarim 31:10, Hadar Z’kanim Dvarim 31:10, Ibn Ezra Dvarim 31:10, Ibn Ezra Shmot 20:8
[2] Shmot 23:16.
[3] Vayikra 23:43.
[4] Talmud Bavli Sukka 11b.
[5] See Ibn Ezra, Shmot 23:16; HaKtav v’haKabalah, Shmot 23:16.
[6] Shmot 23:11 “But during the seventh year, you must leave it alone and withdraw from it. The needy among you will then be able to eat [from your fields] just as you do, and whatever is left over can be eaten by wild animals. This also applies to your vineyard and your olive grove.

[7] See comments of R Hayim Palitiel to Shmot 23:16
[8] See comments of R SR Hirsch, and Meshech Hochma to Dvarim 31:10.

Echoes of Eden

Essays and Lectures for Sukkot (and Hakhel)

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Commandment of Hakhel

The Commandment of Hakhel

Rabbi Ari D. Kahn

Over a hundred years ago* in Warsaw a small pamphlet was  published  entitled  Zecher  L'Mikdash' [1] (A Remembrance of the Temple), containing "explanations  of the  mitzvat  Hakhel,  one  of the commandments of the Torah commanded to us by Moshe Rabbenu, may he rest in peace." The pamphlet was published anonymously,[2] and Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz Te'omim — "The Aderet" — is credited with its authorship.[3]  Since that time, a plethora of works have emerged on the topic, which have contributed to a symbolic performance of this mitzva in our time. In the following pages I will deal with a few of the issues involved in the mitzva of Hakhel, noting some points of particular interest.

The Torah, in Deuteronomy, commands us to gather — Hakhel at the end of the sabbatical year, for a public reading of selected biblical portions:

Assemble (hakhel) the nation, men, women and children and the proselyte in your midst, in order that they may hear and that they may learn and fear the Lord your God and safeguard to perform all the words of this Torah[4]

Before us is an attempt to bring about intellectual, emotional and, perhaps most important, practical results from this mass gathering. Although it would be difficult to emphasize one of these aspects over the others, different commentators hone in on what they feel is the ultimate desired effect of the Mitzva. Some see the learning as the most important aspect, while others see the goal as instilling the fear of God in the participants.[5] In fact, when considering what verses were actually read and the frequency of the event, it is difficult to understand  Hakhel in terms of Talmud torah (a learning experience per se).[6] The Rambam (Maimonides) describes Hakhel as a "reenactment" of the Sinaitic revelation.[7] At first glance, this seems to focus on the talmud torah aspect of Hakhel, but, as we shall see, the Rambam's view is a bit more complex than this explanation would suggest.

Hakhel and the Sabbatical Year
In order to fully understand the Hakhel ceremony one must understand the context in which it was observed, namely, in relationship to the sabbatical year. Avraham lbn Ezra views Hakhel (which he claims occurs at the start of the Sabbatical year, rather than at its close) as an emotional "pep talk" to encourage the nation not to sit idle intellectually as well as physically during the Sabbatical year. Rather, the Hakhel ceremony was intended, in lbn Ezra's view, to encourage the people to utilize the year to pursue talmud torah and fearing God.[8]  While Nachmanides, (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Ramban) disagrees as to the timing of the Hakhel ceremony, placing it at the end of the Sabbatical year,[9] as do all of the Talmudic sources.[10] He agrees with lbn Ezra as to the purpose of Hakhel. This seems somewhat problematic, as such a gathering is more logically timed at the start of the Sabbatical year, making the Ramban's "compromise" stance somewhat less tenable.

Rabbi Dovid Zvi Hoffman[11] also takes the Sabbatical year into account and explains that during the other years of the seven-year cycle the Jews would enter Jerusalem at the close of the harvest season to offer prayers and sacrifices of thanksgiving for the produce of that year. On this the seventh or Sabbatical year, people would naturally sense the marked difference of the lack of harvest through their own physical toil, but would feel compelled to thank God for sustaining them as per the Biblical promise:

Then I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year and it will make its produce for the three years (the sixth year, the seventh or Sabbatical year, and the eighth or residual year).[12]

The image of God sustaining the People of Israel in such a fashion no doubt brings to mind the relationship of God and Israel in the desert, when they were sustained by the manna. This "return to the desert" may now set the stage for the quasi-Sinaitic experience known as Hakhel, in the hope that the people will accept the Torah a new at the end of every seven-year cycle. R. Hoffman here alludes to the description of Hakhel found in Hagiga Chapter 3 Halakha 6 in the Rambam:

As for proselytes who do not know the Law, they must make ready their heart and give ear with their ears to hearken in awe and reverence and trembling joy as on the day when the Law was given on Sinai. Even great scholars who know the entire Law must listen with utmost attention. Even if there is any who cannot hear, he should keep his heart intent on this reading for Scripture  has  ordained  it  solely  for  the strengthening of true religion and a man should so regard himself as though the Law was now layed upon him for the first time and as though he now heard it from the mouth of the Lord. For the king is an ambassador to proclaim the words of God.

Rambam's View of Hakhel
The Rambam's depiction of Hakhel within the context of revelation at Sinai is not without a few interesting problems. The general association results from Rambam's exegesis of the biblical passages in question. A close reading of the Torah's descriptions of Revelation and of Hakhel reveal a number of similarities, the most significant for this discussion being the use of the word "hakhel" (gather) in each context:

The day that you stood before the Lord thy God in Horev, when the Lord said to me, 'Gather (hakhel) me the people together and I will make them hear my words that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.[13]

This passage, in which the term "hakhel" is used in a technical sense, discusses the giving of the Torah. However, the specific phrase which Rambam uses in his description of Hakhel is "borrowed" from a Talmudic discussion of a separate issue, dealing with a person who was leaning on a pillar while acting as meturgeman (translator):

R. Shmuel the son of Yitzchak saw him and said, 'As the Torah was given amid awe and fear (reverence), we must also treat it with awe and fear”.[14]

Rambam is certainly aware of the proper context of this discussion, for in the Laws of Prayer, where he discusses the laws concerning reading the Torah, we find a discussion of this same case:

The turgeman (translator) may not lean on a pillar nor beam, rather he must stand in awe and fear (reverence). [15]

Of note is the different ways in which Rambam treats the same source. In the Laws of Prayer, he codifies the law as stated, while in the Laws of Festival Offering he goes somewhat further,  citing  the theological significance of this law as well. My revered
Teacher Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik[16]  addresses the connection between these two passages in Rambam postulating that their common element is more than literary.  Hakhel is seen as a paradigm of Kriy'at HaTorah (public reading of the Torah). Rabbi Soloveitchik cites the "famous" exposition of R. Elazar ben Azaryah regarding Hakhel:

If men come to learn and women come to listen, why are children brought? To bring reward upon those who bring them.[17]

Rabbi Soloveitchik concludes that there exist two separate elements of the mitzva of Hakhel, the first being studying talmud torah (which necessitates proper understanding of the subject matter) and the second is listening (even when the person does not fully comprehend what he hears). Similarly, Rabbi Soloveitchik points to the existence of these two elements within Talmud Torah itself: the primarily intellectual experience of learning Torah, whose subject matter can include the entire Talmudic corpus of knowledge, and, on the other had, what may be termed 'hearing the Word of God', which applies exclusively to the Written Law, the Torah, which Rabbi Soloveitchik, relying on the passage in the Rambam cited above (Hagiga, Chapter 3 Halakha 6), insists must always be viewed as a re-experience of the Revelation at Sinai.

Proselytes and Hakhel in The Rambam
Another aspect of Rambam's formulation of Hakhel and its relationship to the Sinaitic revelation we have yet to discuss relates to the singular treatment of proselytes in the passage quoted above: "As for proselytes who do not know the Law..."  This formulation compels us to wonder why Rambam singles out proselytes in observing the mitzva of Hakhel. Some commentators do not deal with this question directly, but simply prefer to avoid the problem altogether by altering the punctuation of the passage. The section preceding ours, Halakha 5, reads:

The reading of the Law and the benedictions must be in the Holy Language, as it is said, 'Thou shalt read this law' — in its very language, even though foreign tongues are spoken there.

Aderet, in a brief gloss,[18] believes that the section which we have been treating, namely Halakha 6 dealing with Hakhel and revelation, should begin with the words found at the end of Halakha 5, "Even though foreign tongues are spoken there." On the other hand, Rabbi Zevulun Zaks[19] is of the opinion that the reference to proselytes in the first section of Halakha 6 should actually be the end of Halakha 5, as it is a natural continuation of the theme of "foreign tongues" This emendation would leave Halakha 6 without any reference to proselytes, and the exhortation to view Hakhel as revelation would be a general one, directed to all of Israel.

Rabbi Alter Hilovitz[20] also deals with the question of the proper punctuation of Halakhot 5 and 6 in the Rambam, and notes that in original manuscripts of the Rambam, no numbers dividing Halakhot appeared at all. His conclusion, however, concurs with that of Rabbi Zaks, attaching the discussion of proselytes to Halakha 5 and leaving the discussion of Hakhel as one directed equally to all Jews.

Hakhel and Revelation: Other Interpretations
In attempting to clarify the relationship between Hakhel and Revelation, a direct analysis of the relevant sources is lacking. Rather, scholars have attempted to treat this subject in light of other sources in Rambam and elsewhere, drawing their conclusions from comparison and logical inference which may or may not do justice to this question per se. Two examples of such treatment are to be found in the writings of Rabbi A. Hilovitz and Rabbi Shlomo Goren. Rabbi Hilovitz[21] notes that in Sefer HaMitzvot, Ramban (Nachmanides) takes issue with Rambam on the latter's failure to list "remembering Revelation at Sinai" as a positive command.[22] This, Rabbi Hilovitz suggests, is the reason why Rambam mentions Revelation in his discussion of Hakhel: Hakhel is the fulfillment of the command to "remember Revelation".

This, according to Rabbi Hilovitz, also explains why in Sefer HaMitzvot, Hakhel is listed among the positive commands to write a sefer Torah, mezuzah, and t'fillin[23] rather than being listed among the laws of sacrifices, as it is in the Yad HaHazakah. Rabbi Hilovitz concludes that there are two aspects to the mitzva of Hakhel, one involving the "inner content" — in the Yad, listed as part of the obligation of pilgrimage to Jerusalem — and one of "external meaning", namely remembering the Revelation, as reflected in the Sefer HaMitzvot.

Rabbi Hilovitz's analysis is useful in several ways. Firstly, it addresses Ramban's apt question on Rambam's "omission" of the obligation to remember Revelation. It further addresses the discrepancy in listing the positive command of Hakhel in two different contexts in Sefer HaMitzvot and in the Yad. However, the conclusions Rabbi Hilovitz draws seem to oversimplify the problem. It would seem that, had Rambam felt that Hakhel was indeed the fulfillment of the command to remember Revelation, he would have stated as much in Sefer HaMitzvot.[24]

Rabbi Shlomo Goren offers another explanation.[25] His starting point is a different halakha in Rambam concerning Hakhel: "It is a positive commandment to assemble (lehakhel) all Israelites, men, women and children...".[26] Numerous commentators have pointed out the peculiar syntax of this statement, and they draw various conclusions regarding the burden of action implicit in this command: On whom does the duty "to assemble" fall? Is this an active command upon the king, the courts, or other leaders of the people?[27] Rabbi Goren explains that since Hakhel is a reenactment of Revelation — when the Jewish People ceased their tribal existence and became a nation — the command of Hakhel is for each Jew to "gather himself". The command is for every individual to assemble, not as an individual, but as an integral part of the nation.

Rabbi Goren's explanation goes far in clarifying the peculiarity in Rambam's syntax, and it does so by making use of the idea of Revelation. However, this explanation does not illuminate Rambam's view of Revelation itself or its relationship with the Hakhel ceremony.

Rambam's View of Revelation
Without amending the text or punctuation, the question remains as to why a convert receives special mention and is required specifically to pay attention during the Hakhel ceremony. Although Rambam concludes that all must view Hakhel as if the words being read emanate directly from Heaven, why are converts specifically addressed, and why are the words about  Mount  Sinai directed at them, perhaps exclusively? Furthermore, a second question noted above remains unanswered: Why, in Hilkhot T'filla, does Rambam mention only the law (not to lean while translating the Torah, but to stand in awe and reverence), while in Hilkhot Hagigah, Rambam mentions the law and its theological significance as well, ("Stand in awe and reverence... As the day when the Law was given at Sinai").

Perhaps noting Rambam's treatment of Revelation in other contexts may shed light on the proper interpretation here. Rabbi Walter Wurzberger writes:

Maimonides goes as far as to claim that at Sinai, with the single exception of Moses, the people were unable to grasp the content of what they had heard. In his opinion, the events at Sinai represented, insofar as the experience of all but Moses was concerned, a revelation of the Divine Presence, but not the communication of content.[28]

We see, therefore, that with the exception of Moshe Rabbenu, there was no intellectual experience per se at Sinai. Rather, the experience was purely emotional or spiritual. We may conjecture that for the Jew whose soul stood at Sinai, it was not necessary to make special emotional preparations for Hakhel, but merely to pay attention. However, for the convert, who is not as yet emotionally "initiated", it was necessary to make a special provision so that he may become "a full- fledged Jew" to the degree that he, too, can feel that he stood with the Jewish People at Sinai.[29]

In other words, Hakhel can be seen as a "refresher course" in the emotional or spiritual aspects of membership in the Jewish People for those who participated in the original, archetypal experience at Sinai.  For those who did not participate in that original experience, Hakhel becomes a "substitute", initiating them in much the same way. For the convert, then, Hakhel is Revelation.[30]

Hakhel Without the Temple?
Part of the motivation of the Aderet for "re-introducing" Hakhel was his hope that the mitzvah would soon be reinstituted, if not in the rebuilt Temple, then perhaps in some symbolic form. He therefore felt it necessary to offer an explanation as to why a symbolic observance of this mitzva was not introduced at any time following the destruction of the Second Temple, as was the case with numerous other mitzvot.[31] Some suggest that in fact a symbolic celebration of Hakhel was introduced, namely Simhat Torah! The first person to make this association was Abarbanel[32] who wrote that during the six years of the shmitta cycle the High Priest, prophet, judge or leader of the people would read in public from the Torah and complete the first four of the books of the Torah. In the seventh year, the king would read from Deuteronomy. From this the custom in our days was established on Shmini Atzeret, on the last day, we call it Simhat Torah, on that day we finish the Torah and the leader of the community gets up and finishes the Torah, reading himself, without a meturgeman (translator). He reads the portion "Ve'Zot haB'racha" to resemble the act of the king in ancient times.[33]

A basic question may be posed: Hakhel did not take place on Shmini Atzeret. It took place on the first of the Intermediate Days of Tabernacles, as we see from the Mishna: " the conclusion of the first day of the Festival[34] (of Tabernacles)..." However, it should be noted that the Mishna as quoted in the Palestinian Talmud differs: " the conclusion of the last day of the Festival... ".[35]  This variation  would  place the Hakhel  ceremony  on  Shmini  Atzeret,  as  per Abarbanel, yet most, if not all commentators dismiss this  version  as a textual error.[36]  However, some evidence does exist in support of this reading. Aside from Abarbanel, we find a statement of R. Hai Gaon:
Some read 'For this command" (Deut. 30:1 l), as we learned 'the last day of yom tov we read mitzvot v'hukim'. And so is the custom in the Land of Israel and Jerusalem.)[37]

The passage "For this command" is found in Deuteronomy 30:11, which immediately precedes the portion dealing with Hakhel. In order to complete the required number of verses to be read at any public reading of the Torah, the verses dealing with Hakhel would certainly have had to be read at this time. R. Hai Gaon's statement, then, albeit obscure, may serve as a source for a custom which connected Hakhel to Shmini Atzeret/Simhat Torah.

In the Sefer HaManhig we find:

The custom in France is to read Ecclesiastes before the Torah reading on Shmini Atzeret... And I found a good reason for this. For Solomon, may he rest in peace, on hag (Shmini Atzeret) said it (Ecclesiastes) as part of the Hakhe1[38]... to reproach Israel. Therefore it is proper to say it on the hag (Shmini Atzeret).[39]

While the Sefer HaManhig is certainly not a definitive source for the practices of King Solomon at the Hakhel ceremony, but is rather an attempt to explain a common custom of the French Jewish community, the source is of interest nonetheless. It indicates that a relationship between Hakhel and Shmini Atzeret / Simhat Torah did exist at some level.

Rabbi S.  K.  Mirsky,[40]  Shmuel  Safrai[41]  and  Y.  T. Levinsky[42] all contend that Simhat Torah began as a symbolic form of Hakhel. A. Ya'ari[43] argues that Simhat Torah was first established independently of Hakhel, but that at a later date it took on customs which may be better understood in light of a possible relationship with Hakhel. Foremost would be what we know as "Hatan Torah ", as mentioned by Abarbanel quoted above. A leader of the community is called to the Torah to read the last portion, thus "completing" the cycle of yearly readings. Secondly, the involvement of children and the custom of calling children up to the Torah may relate to the unique requirement of Hakhel to include women[44] and children in the ceremony.[45] A third custom of Simhat Torah which may be better understood in light of a connection with Hakhel is that of calling each and every male up to the Torah, reminiscent of the mass participation in Hakhel.

Since the publication of the Aderet's pamphlet, a symbolic observance of the mitzva of Hakhel has, in fact, been instituted. It seems proper to conclude with a free translation of the Aderet's own thoughts on Hakhel:

"May He of Blessed Name grant us to merit to hear the reading of the Hakhel in our Temple, from the mouth of our Righteous Messiah, as the Priests and Levites engage in their service and all of Israel is assembled”.[46]

[1] Republished in Kovelz Hakhel. Rabbi Binyamin Rabinowitz Teomim, ed. (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1973.)

[2] The author writes, "My intention is not, God forbid, money or honor. Therefore I will not reveal my name." Kovetz Hakhel, Pg- 23.

[3] Ibid., pp. 7, 16. All later sources have accepted the authorship with the exception of A. Hilovitz. See Chokrei HaZmanim Vol. I (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1978), p. 258, note 42 and p. 267, note 42. An oddity in the original pamphlet is the inclusion of an approbation written by the Rov of Ponevizh, the Aderet himself. This is especially odd given that the author, presumably the Aderet, declined to sign his name to the work out of modesty, yet the approbation signed by the Aderet for the pamphlet describes its author as "harav hagaon hamekhaber, shilta" (loosely, the brilliant rabbi who authored this pamphlet). This would indeed be a peculiar modus operandi for a man motivated by modesty. However, it is worth noting that of the three approbations included in the original pamphlet, that of the Aderet is the only one which actually attests to having read the contents, and it includes three pages of supplemental notes.
A second point of interest may be seen in what I believe is a cryptic hint included by the author in his introduction to the pamphlet:

…and in our days let there be seen upon the hills the feet of the Messenger Elijah for the Son of David shall come speedily in our days...

The Aderet's given name was of course, Elijah David. There are other works which have been written anonymously yet attributed to the Aderet which received approbations  from “the Rov of Ponevizh”.

[4] Deuteronomy 31:10 ff.

[5] Rabbi Dovid Zvi Hoffman, Commentary to Sefer Devarim, Hebrew translation. Vol. 2, 30:11 (Tel Aviv: Netzach, 1961).

[6] Ibid

[7] Mishna Torah, Hilkhot Hagiga, Chapter 3, Law 6.

[8] Exodus 20:8, Deuteronomy 15:1, 31:10. (I am not convinced that this is the only way to read and understand the Ibn Ezra’s position)

[9]Ramban, Commentary on the Torah. Sec verses cited in proceeding note.

[10] Mishna Sotah Chapter 7 Mishna 8. Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 41.

[11] Hoffman, Commentary to Sefer Devarim.

[12] Leviticus 25:21
[13] Deuteronomy 4:10. cf. Hoffman, above: Natanel Helfgot "Smichat Parshiot in Parshat Vayelech and Their Meaning," in Alon Shvut No. 118 (Sivan 5747).

[14] Jerusalem Talmud, Megilah 4:1. Cf. Avot d'Rabbi Nathan 1:1, Pesikta d'Rav Kahana 77a, Vayikra Rabbah 27:6. See also S. Lieberman in JQR, Vol. 35, 1944, p. 7f., where parallel sources in Greek literature are cited, including the following:
"I will cite one example of how the people are to react to the public reading of the king's letters: 'A profound silence reigns when those rescripts are read. There is not the slightest noise. Everyone listens most attentively to the orders contained in them. Whoever makes the slightest noise thereby interrupting the reading runs the greatest danger. All the more should one stand with fear and trepidation, in order to understand the contents of what is said to you.'" (Chyrsosiom Migne, PC Llll,  112).  Professor Lieberman  sets  the  time of this  source as approximately 100 years after the Midrashim that are cited above.

[15] Rambam, Laws of Prayer 12:11
[16] Rabbi J. Soloveitchik, Shiurim Lzecher Abba Mori. Vol 2 (Jerusalem, 1985), p. 208 ff. Cf. Rabbi A. Hilovitz, Chokrei HaZmanim, Volume 2 (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1980), p. 291 ff.

[17] Babylonian Talmud, Hagiga 3a. Cf. the explanation of this braita by Rabbi Natan Adler, Torat Emet, page 26.

[18] Aderet, in his approbation to Zecher L 'Mikdash, pg. 22.

[19] Rambarn L'Am (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1960), with notes by Rabbi Zevulun Zaks. See p. 96, note 46.

[20] Hilovitz, Chokrei HaZmanim vol I p. 257 ff. Also see Rabbi Chaim Heller, Sefer Mitzvot (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook), p. 83 note 8.

[21] Chokrei HaZmanim, p. 256.

[22] Sefer  HaMitzvot,  Ramban's  additional  notes,  negative commandment 2.

[23] Sefer HaMitzvot, positive commandment 16.

[24] What Hilovitz calls "internal" would seem to me "external", and vice versa. If anything, the internal message of Hakhel would be its relationship to Mount Sinai, while the external would be its relationship with the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Both of these aspects are found in the Yad, which should require  an  analysis  of  the  Yad  itself,  rather  than comparison with Sefer HaMitzvot. See discussion below.

[25] Rabbi Shlomo Goren, "Mitzvat Hakhel L'Or HaHalacha," in Torat HaMoadim Tel Aviv: Tzioni, 1964), pp. 127-138.

[26] Rambam, Hilkhot Hagiga 3:1.

[27] See Aderet, Kovelz Hakhel, p. 36, For a more comprehensive discussion, see Rabbi S. Y. Zevin, ed.. Encyclopedia Talmudit (Jerusalem, 1981),Vol 10,p.443ff, for an expanded version of this entry. Rabbi Zevin's L'Or HaHalakha (Jerusalem, 1979), pp. 135-145. Other discussions of Hakhel may be found in Rabbi 1. Jacobson, Netiv Bina (Tel Aviv: Sinai, 1978), Vol. 4 pp. 172-176: Rabbi Y. M. Epstein, Arukh HaShulhan HeAtid (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1971), pp. 188 ff.

[28] Walter S. Wurzberger, "Covenantal Imperatives", in G. Appel, ed., Samuel K. Mirsky Memorial Volume (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1970), p. II. See Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed, part 2 Chapter 35.  Furthermore, Rabbi Wurzberger notes, this is the explanation of the passage in the Passover Haggada, "Had we been brought to Mount Sinai without being given the Torah, it would have sufficed," Note the distinction between actually receiving the Torah and the experience of being at Sinai.

[29] According to this suggestion the status of a convert attending the second Hakhel ceremony is not clear. An article was brought to my attention, (Menahem Kasdan, Gesher, Yeshiva University Press, 1969) which analyzes the verses read at the Hakhel ceremony and compares them to the instructions and charges  given  to a candidate for conversion.  Kasdan concludes that Hakhel is actually a "ceremony of conversion" anew, for the entire People of Israel. (I am indebted to Rabbi Ahron Adler for bringing this article to my attention.)

[30] For Rambam's treatment of converts in other contexts, see Yad, Laws of Bikurum 4:3; Response to Ovadia the Convert. Furthermore, note the similarity of language between the law in  Hagiga, "For Scripture has ordained it solely for the strengthening of true religion", and Rambam's Commentary on Mishna Bikukrim 1:4, Rabbi J. Kapah, ed. (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1963), Vol. I, p. 263, where Rambam explains the law that a convert may say 'The God of our fathers" in his prayers, despite the ruling of the Mishna to the contrary: "For Abraham is teacher of the true religion and thereby the spiritual father of all converts."

[31] Kovetz Hakhel, p. 24 ff.

[32] Abarbanel, Commentary on Torah. Devarim 31:10.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Mishna, end of Seventh Chapter, Sotah.

[35] See Mishna, ibid. in Palestinian Talmud, and Cambridge
Manuscript. Cf. Rabbi M. Schachter, The Babylonian and Palestinian Mishna (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1959), p. 201 item 491 and notes: S. Lieberman, Tosefta Kifshuta (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1973) Vol. 8, p. 684.

[36] See commentators on Palestinian Talmud, ad loc.

[37] See B. M. Levin, Otzar HaGeonim, Megilla 31 a.

[38] See Kings 8:1.

[39] R. Avraham Natan HaYarki, HaManhig, (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1978). Y. Raphael, ed., p. 416, ff., item 57. Cf. Rav Aharon HaCohen of Lunel, Orhot Haim, Hilkhot Lulav.

[40] Rabbi S. K. Mirsky, "Hakhel" in Talpiot, year 6 Pamphlet no. 122 (Nisan 1953), pp. 104-107.

[41] S. Safrai, "Ma'aseihem Shel Olei Regel B'Yerushalim B'Ymei Bayit Sheini" (The Behavior of Pilgrims in Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period), in Sinai. Vol. 46, p. 292. Cf. Safrai, Ha'Aliya L'Regel B'Ymei Bayit HaSheni (Pilgrimage in the Second Temple Period), p. 196.

[42] Yomtov Levinsky, "Simhat Hakhel VSimhat Torah", in Mahanaim Vol. 40 (Erev Rosh Hashana 5721), pp. 177-180.

[43] Avraham Ya'ari, Toldot Hag Simhat Torah (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1964), p. 358.

[44] Regarding the participation of women in Simhat Torah, see Ya'ari, op. cit., chapter 28.

[45] See Ya'ari, op. cit. chapter 27, p. 243 and notes ad loc.

[46] Kovetz Hakhel, p. 27.

* This article was originally written in 1988, it appeared in the “Council of Young Israel Rabbi annual journal” volume 2, 1988; “The Commandment of Hakhel” pages 74-89. The present version contains a few small changes.