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Parshas Vayeilech

A Royal Reward
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Every seven years, following the Shemitta year, the Torah commands us to gather for the mitzva of Hakheil. At the beginning of the eighth year, on the first day of Chol Hamoed Succos, the entire Jewish nation, men, women and children, gathered in the Beis Hamikdash to hear the king read the Torah (Devarim 31:10-14;Sota 41a). This huge gathering, for the sake of the Torah, has a profound impact on all present. There was something indescribable at the Siyum Hashas of the Daf Yomi a few years ago; the sense that everyone had united in order to honour the Torah. One was almost certain that everyone who left this assembly would surely rededicate himself to limud Hatorah (study of Torah). Here, one could sense, if only slightly, what Hakheil was like (Adapted from Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzva 612).

Chazal state: "The men come to learn and the women come to listen. Why do the little children come? To reward those who bring them(Chagiga 3a)." Chazal understand that even infants were brought to the Hakheil ceremony (Ramban Devarim; Maharsha, Chagiga ibid) Therefore they ask, since they are too young to learn, what is the purpose of bringing them? The commentators ask - what did they mean when they said that the infants are brought to reward those who bring them? If the children derive a benefit from coming, then that would be reason enough to bring them. On the other hand, if there were really no advantage, would the Torah command us to bring them just to receive reward? Are we being rewarded for burdening ourselves by taking along extra "baggage"?

The Ksav V'hakabbala explains that since everyone was required to attend Hakheil, there was no one to babysit the children. Consequently, parents would be forced to bring their children in any case. Thus the question of the braissa: Why did the Torah have to mention the children given that their parents had no choice but to bring them to Hakheil? The Gemara answers: even though we would have brought them in any case, Hashem commanded us to bring them, in order to be able to reward us for doing so.

Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz zt'l, the Mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva in pre-war Poland, gives a different answer. He explains that even though they are only infants, they are still influenced by hearing the words of the Torah. We find that R' Yehoshua Ben Chanania's mother used to bring his cradle to the Beis Medrash in order that he should absorb the words of Torah (Yeushalmi Yevamos 1:6). This was intended to influence him and indeed it did prove to have a profound impact on his future rise to greatness (Avos 2:8. See Meshech Chachma, Devarim ibid). Even though this is why the children were brought to the Hakheil ceremony, Chazal declare that the purpose was to reward those who brought them. One might think that if one tries to influence his children or students, and is unsuccessful, he has not accomplished anything. R' Yerucham writes that our task is to try to bring them closer to Hashem, and regardless of the outcome we still receive a reward. We have fulfilled Hashem's mission and we are rewarded for our efforts. This should be a great source of encouragement for parents, teachers and those involved in outreach. Our efforts are not in vain. If Hashem rewards us, then He must be pleased with us(Da'as Torah, Devarim ibid).

Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner zt'l offers another explanation based on the following Rambam. The Rambam writes "Everyone [even those who do not understand lashon kodesh] must prepare themselves to concentrate and to listen to the Torah reading in awe and fear, and rejoice with trembling like the day the Torah was given at Har Sinai. Even the great scholars who knew the entire Torah were obligated to listen with intense concentration so that it should be perceived as if they were being commanded at that moment and were hearing the Torah directly from Hashem, for the king is Hashem's shaliach (agent) who makes the word of G-d heard (Hilchos Chagiga 3:5,6)." Rav Hutner comments that the Rambam clearly understands that the Hakheil ceremony is a re-enactment of Kabbalas HaTorah at Har Sinai. We therefore try to duplicate the awe and fear that was present then. He continues, that we can now understand the importance of bringing the infants. When we received the Torah, the entire nation was present, including all infants. Even if there is no benefit to the infant, we are recreating the atmosphere that was present then by their inclusion. This makes for a rewarding experience and is an integral part of the mitzva (Pachad Yitzchak,Igaros, letter 85).

May we witness the coming of Mashiach when we will all gather in the Beis Hamikdash to fulfill this important mitzva. May it be speedily in our days.

For a fuller treatment of this topic and/or an extensive look at the halachos of Hakheil, see Hakheil: All the King's men women and children and Hakheil:A Re-enactment.

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