HAKHEIL: ALL THE KING'S MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN
Rabbi Yosef Levinson
The Shemitta (sabbatical) year, which has just ended, is an entire
year in which we are commanded to let our fields lie fallow. It
serves as a powerful reminder that God created the world yeish
ma'ayin, or ex nihilo, in six days and rested on the seventh.
Instead of working for a living, the observant farmer lives off
his emuna and bitachon, his faith and trust in Hashem. Free from
his farming duties, the farmer has the opportunity to devote
himself to learning Torah. Then, at the beginning of the eighth
year during the festival of Succos, the nation comes together for
the Hakheil observance.
This is the climax of the Shemitta year: all men, women, and children gather in the Beis Hamikdash to listen to the reading of the Torah. 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.
Today, unfortunately, we cannot fulfil this mitzva. The Beis Hamikdash no longer stands, and the majority of our people do not reside in Eretz Yisrael(1). Nevertheless, we can learn the halachos (laws) of this fascinating mitzva and absorb its lessons. When we learn those sections of the Torah that we cannot observe, we demonstrate our hope and desire that we will one day be able to do so, with the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt and the return of the entire Jewish nation to Eretz Yisrael. May Hashem consider our learning about Hakheil as though we fulfilled this important mitzva(2).
THE TIME OF THE MITZVA
The mitzva of Hakheil is written in the Book of Devarim(3). The Torah states that Moshe commanded the Jewish People, saying:
"At the end of seven years, at the time of Shemitta, during the festival of Succos, 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 the Nation - the men, the women, and the small children and the geir (convert) 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 shall listen and learn to fear Hashem your G-d...."
The Hakheil ceremony was held on the first day of Chol Hamoed. The Gemara(4) derives this from the words: "when all of Israel comes to appear," that is, at the beginning of the festival. Rashi explains that the prescribed z'man (time) for the Torah reading is Yom Tov - namely the first day of Succos - when we are commanded to appear in the Beis Hamikdash. However, before the Torah reading, a wooden bima, or platform, was erected for the King to stand upon. Since such a platform may not be built on Yom Tov, it must be that Hakheil takes place on Chol Hamoed(5).
Tosafos objects to Rashi's explanation: building a platform is not a prerequisite for the Hakheil ceremony. In addition, if the set time for this mitzva is on Yom Tov, why should the mitzva be postponed because they were accustomed to erecting a platform? Hence Tosafos states the first day of Chol Hamoed is the actually the prescribed time for Hakheil. Tosafos further explains that even though "when all of Yisrael appears" implies the first day of Succos, the verse then continues and mentions another time-period, bamoed (literally, "the time of festival"), which means during the festival. If bamoed were all that the Torah wrote, then the mitzva would be performed in the middle of Succos. Since the Torah added, "when all Yisrael appears", the implication is that this mitzva should be performed as close as possible to the beginning of the festival(6).
If the first day of Chol Hamoed falls on Shabbos, the Hakheil ceremony is postponed to the next day(7). Why was the Torah reading not performed on Shabbos? According to R' Ba, the reading is postponed because chatzotzos, trumpets, were blown with it, and they could not be blown on Shabbos(8). R' Yitzchak says the reason is that they had to erect the bima(9). Both of these reasons relate to rabbinic prohibitions; thus Mid'Araissa, the reading could be performed on Shabbos(10).
The Panim Yafos points out the following difficulty(11). If the first day of Chol Hamoed is the prescribed z'man for Hakheil, how could Chazal (the Sages) delay the Torah reading to the next day? Even more problematic is that, even assuming that Chazal had the authority to postpone this mitzva, how could it then be performed at a time that is not mentioned in the Torah, namely the next day? One cannot fulfil a mitzva after its prescribed z'man has elapsed. The Turei Even answers that it is preferable to perform the Hakheil ceremony as close to the start of Succos as possible, that is, the first day of Chol Hamoed. Nevertheless, this mitzva may still be observed until the middle of the festival. We deem it the beginning of Succos until halfway through the holiday(12).
There is discussion over whether Hakheil was performed immediately, that is, on the night of motzaei Yom Tov, or on the following day. It is apparent from Tosafos that Hakheil was observed at night, as close to the beginning of the festival as possible(13). The Reshash, however, says that it is unlikely that this mitzva was observed at night, though he does not explain why. One possible reason could be that it would be too difficult to bring all the children to a Torah reading at night. Rav Aharon Kotler zt"l, offers another reason. Beginning with motzaei Yom Tov, on every night of Succos the festive Simchas Beis Hamikdash celebration took place(14). It was unlikely that both these ceremonies took place the same night. This seems to be the view of both the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch, who both write that the Torah was read on the second day of the festival(15).
THE ROLE OF THE KING
The king is the one who read the Torah to the assemblage. In fact, the Mishna refers to the mitzva of Hakheil as Parshas Hamelech, or "the Torah portion of the king,"(16) thus signifying the importance of the king's role in this mitzva. The Sefer HaYareim lists the reading by the king as one mitzva, and everyone coming to listen to the Torah reading as a second mitzva(17). Even though the Sefer Hachinuch does not count the king's reading as a separate mitzva, he writes that if the king chooses not to read from the Torah, he transgresses the mitzva of Hakheil.
However, in the parsha of Hakheil, the Torah itself does not make any mention of the king. Nor does the Mishna or Gemara list any source for this halacha. This fact prompted the Minchas Chinuch to write(18): "I do not know if it is a halacha l'Moshe miSinai, (a law taught to Moshe at Har Sinai) that this mitzva must be performed by the king. If that is the case, then this mitzva was not observed until Shaul was anointed king. Or, perhaps, having a king was not a pre-requisite, and the mitzva could be performed by the leader of the generation." He concludes that it was probably not necessary to have a king(19).
The commentaries mention two sources for the king to read the Torah. Rashi(20) quotes from the Sifri that the king is commanded: "He shall write for himself this Mishneh Torah"(21). Sifri derives that the Torah portion that is read during the Hakheil ceremony is the Book of Devarim, from this phrase, since this book is also known as Mishneh Torah. (It is known by this name because it repeats many of the mitzvos taught in the previous books of the Torah(22))
The king's role in this mitzva is based on the assumption that if the Torah teaches us the reading of Hakheil in the parsha dedicated to the laws of a king, it is because he is the one designated to read the Torah at Hakheil time. The Chizkuni writes that this law can be learnt from the parsha of Hakheil. "Moshe said: 'You shall read this Torah.'" 'You shall read' is written in the singular tikra. The only person that Moshe could have been referring to was Yehoshua, who had the status of a king(23).
It is still unclear whether it was mandatory for the Torah to be read by the king himself. One might argue from the Yereim's opinion that, since the king has his own mitzva to read the Torah at the Hakheil ceremony, that a king must thereby be required. Similarly, one could adduce from the fact that according to the Chinuch, the king transgresses this mitzva - even though there is only one mitzva of Hakheil - if he does not read the Torah at the ceremony, that it is indeed mandatory to have a king for this mitzva to take place.
However, a closer look at the Yereim shows that this is not so. The Yereim writes that we learn from the Neviim, the Prophets, that the king was the one who read the Torah for the Hakheil ceremony. Specifically, from an episode involving the king Yoshiyahu. "The king went up to the House of Hashem, and all the men of Yehuda and all the inhabitants of Yerushalayim with him, as well as the kohanim and the prophets and all the people, from small to great and he red in their ears all the words of the Sefer HaBris, (Book of the Convenant, that is, the Torah) that had been found in the Temple of Hashem"(24).
Though it clearly states that the king read the Torah, one cannot therefore conclude from this passage that the king is obligated to read the Torah during the Hakheil service, nor can one conclude that the mitzva of Hakheil cannot be observed without a king. The passuk does not say that Yoash had to read the Torah, it merely states that he did read it. In addition, there is no mention that the event described was Hakheil, or that it took place during Succos. The beginning of this chapter does not disclose the date of this episode. Later on, it is mentioned that the nation observed Pesach, and offered the Korban Pesach and, in fact, this episode is actually the Haftora for the second day of Pesach. Additionally, regardless of when Yoshiyahu read the Torah to the nation, this story is related in the Neviim, the Prophets, which is not a valid source for deriving Torah law(25). Thus, we can conclude that it is only a rabbinical requirement that the king must perform the Hakheil ceremony.
This is also the understanding of the Tiferes Yisrael. He writes that the Sages legislated that the king must read the Torah in order to show honour to the Torah. The people themselves will become more meticulous in their upkeep of the mitzvos when they see that even the king is not above the law. But, when there was no king, one of the leaders would read it: either the Kohen Gadol (Head Priest) or the head of Sanhedrin, Jewish Supreme Court(26).
Actually, there is a proof on this very point. The Mishna relates an incident that occurred when King Agriphas read the Torah at the Hakheil ceremony. Agriphas was a descendant of Herod and the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed in his time. During the reading, when he came to the passuk: "You may not place over you a foreigner who is not your brother,"(27) his eyes flowed with tears for this passuk disqualified him as king. The people consoled him: "Do not fear Agriphas, you are our brother. You are out brother"(28). The Gemara comments that they committed a grievous sin for flattering him(29).
Rashi explains that Herod, Agriphas' father was an Eved Kn'aani, a slave. Since Herod was not Jewish, he was unfit to be king. However Agriphas' mother was Jewish, justifying the people's calling him 'our brother'. Nevertheless, though he was qualified to be monarch, it was demeaning that the king of the Jewish people be the descendant of a slave(30). Tosafos quotes the Yerushalmi that many people died because they falsely flattered Agriphas. The people would not have suffered such a harsh punishment if there has not been biblical requirement that disqualified Agriphas. Accordingly, Tosafos proves that although he was a fully-fledged Jew on account of his mother, nonetheless, to qualify as king, one needs both parents to be Jewish. Agriphas was thus an illegitimate ruler(31). Elsewhere Tosafos writes that even though Agriphas did not have the status of a king, nevertheless the people accorded him honour as if he were king. Yet, despite the fact that according to halacha he was not the king, he read the Torah at the Hakheil ceremony. From the narration of the Mishna it appears that nation fulfilled their obligation, thus demonstrating that there is no requirement to hear the Torah reading from a king(32).
The Hakheil ceremony took place in the Ezras Nashim, the women's courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash(33). The Ezras Nashim is located east of the main Temple courtyard. Generally this was the furthermost point that women entered in the Beis Hamikdash. The walls of the Ezras Nashim contained protrusions. Every year during Succos, planks were laid along these projections, which formed a balcony for the women to watch the Simchas Beis Hashoeva.
We mentioned earlier that the king read from Mishneh Torah, the Book of Devarim. In fact, selections were read. The king read from the beginning of Devarim until the end of the first portion of Shema(34). He then read the second portion of Shema, V'haya im shamo'a(35). There is a dispute over how the reading continued after this point.
According to Rashi, the king then read Aseir t'aseir - "You shall surely tithe"(36) - in the portion of Re'eh. The Torah was then rolled ahead to Pashas Ki Savo and the section of Ki Sechaleh l'aseir - "When you have finished tithing"(37) - is read. The next passage read is the section of Brachos U'klalos, or blessings and curses(38). The Torah was then rolled back and the portion containing the laws of the king was read(39).
The Rambam rules that after the second portion of Shema, V'haya im Shamoa, was read, aseir t'aseir was read, continuing until the end of the section of the blessings and curses, concluding with the Bris (Covenant) that he sealed with them a Chorev (Mount Sinai). Accordingly, everything was read in sequence. The reading concluded with the Covenant to emphasise that we should reaffirm our commitment to the Torah(40).
Why did they read these sections? The first section of Shema is a declaration showing acceptance of Hashem's sovereignty(41). The next portion of Shema shows that we accept the yoke of mitzvos(42). Since the Hakheil ceremony took place during Succos, when the crops are gathered and tithed, the laws of tithing are read(43). Although no reason is giving for reading the portion of the king, we can assume though it was read in recognition of the king's role in Hakheil(44). It also serves to remind the king of his responsibilities, and to inspire the citizens to fear and respect their ruler. The Brachos and Klalos are read because they contain the covenants that Hashem made with us to uphold the Torah(45).
THE SEFER TORAH USED
The Gemara refers to the Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) used to perform Hakheil as the Sefer Azara. Rashi explains that it was given this name because it was designated for two special Torah readings that took place in the Ezras Nashim. These were, firstly, on Yom Kippur, when the Kohein Gadol would read the sections discussing this holy day from the Sefer Torah in the Azara, and secondly, when the king would read from this Sefer Torah at the Hakheil ceremony. Rashi adds that Moshe Rabbeinu wrote this Sefer Torah and that it was stored in the Aron (ark) containing the luchos (tablets of the Ten Commandments)(46).
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments that according to Rashi, we can understand Moshe's command - You shall read from this Torah - literally(47). He gave this Sefer to the Kohanim and the elders and then told them to read from it at the Hakheil ceremony(48).
Tosafos raises a difficulty: It is forbidden to enter the Kodesh Kodashim, Holy of Holies, where the Aron was kept, unless one was performing an avoda - a Temple service(49). He therefore understands that this Sefer Torah was not used for Hakheil. Rashi avoids this problem by understanding that since that Torah was required for a reading in the Beis Hamikdash, removing it is considered to be for the benefit of an avoda(50). Alternatively, it was permissible to enter the Kodesh Kodashim for the Torah's sake(51).
Even Tosafos, however, agrees that there was a special Sefer Torah designated for these two readings, not the one that the synagogue in the Beis Hamikdash read from. Even according to Tosafos it is still possible that Moshe wrote this Sefer, since he wrote thirteen Sifrei Torah before he passed away(52). There is also an opinion that the king has a special mitzva to write the Book of Devarim, and to read from this scroll during the Hakheil ceremony(53).
For the mitzva of Hakheil, the Torah could only be read in Lashon Kodesh, from the original Hebrew text(54). Though the Gemara does not mention the source of this halacha, the Rambam writes that it is learned from the passuk - You shall read this Torah. The king recited the brachos, blessings, said before and after the Torah reading. He also said an additional seven brachos (55). The Rambam writes that these brachos must also be recited in Lashon Kodesh.
It seems from the Tosefta that there was also an obligation to expound the verses that were read(56). Though it is unclear if it was the king or the Sages who expounded these passukim(57).
THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN
The entire nation, men, women and even children are commanded to gather and hear the king read the Torah. Although Hakheil is a mitzva asei shehazman goreim, a time bound command from which women are exempt from observing, nevertheless, the Torah included them in this mitzva, as it is written "Gather the nation the men, the women..."(58)
How old are the children who are brought to the Hakheil ceremony? Children are mentioned twice in the passage of Hakheil. First, the verse states, "Gather the nation: the men, the women, and the taf (young children)... And their children who do not know shall listen and fear Hashem your G-d..." The Ramban explains that the children mentioned at the end of the passage are the taf mentioned earlier. They are not infants, but rather young children nearly but not quite old enough to be educated. Therefore, they come to hear and enquire, and their fathers will train and educate them. The Ramban continues, however, that this is not the understanding of the Sages. We learn in a b'raissa: "The men come to learn and the women come to listen. Why do the taf come? To reward those who bring them"(59).
The Maharsha explains that the children in the later verse come to be trained and educated. However, the taf referred to are infants, not the same children as originally assumed by the Ramban. For this reason the Sages asked what benefit was derived from their attendance at the Hakheil ceremony.
The Rabbis' response "to reward those that bring them" implies that the parents have a mitzva to bring them, but that the children themselves do not have any obligation to come. This must be so, for an infant cannot be obligated to perform mitzvos. The Minchas Chinuch derives an interesting halacha from here. Certain people are exempt from the mitzva of Hakheil. For example, (Heaven forbid) those who are blind, deaf, unable to speak, or lame. There are also those who are too old or ill to walk up to the Har HaBayis, the Temple Mount(60). Finally, there is a view in the Gemara that one is not obligated to come to the Hakheil ceremony unless one owns land in Eretz Yisrael. Tosafos follows this opinion, but the Rambam omits it(61).
The Turei Even writes that according to the view that a landless adult is exempt from Hakheil so too, a child who does not own any land in Eretz Yisrael, is pattur , exempt from this mitzva(62).
The Minchas Chinuch, however, disagrees since it is the parents' mitzva and not the child's. As long as the parents are required to come, there is a mitzva to bring their children irrespective of whether the children possess their own land, or, (Heaven forbid), have any of the aforementioned physical impairments(63).
Both parents are included in this mitzva(64). The Turei Even deliberates over whether there was also an obligation on Beis Din to bring the children to the Hakheil ceremony(65). His question implies that the Beis Din did not play any special role in the mitzvah of Hakheil other than possibly being responsible for the children attending.
SCOPE OF THE MITZVA
This brings us to the final topic of our discussions - defining the mitzva of Hakheil. The Sefer Hachinuch explains there is a mitzva for the entire nation: men, women and children to gather and read from the Torah(66). He does not mention that the Beis Din is required to ensure that the people come; rather the nation shall come and gather on its own.
However, the Rambam views this mitzva differently. He writes that we are commanded to gather the nation(67). So, besides the mitzva making it incumbent on each individual to come, there is also a mitzva to gather the nation and ensure that it participates in the Hakheil ceremony. However, it is not clear whose responsibility this is. The Aderes writes that it was either an obligation on the king or the Beis Din(68).
The Rambam writes further that chatzotzros - trumpets - were blown through the city of Yerushalayim to gather the nation(69). The source of this halacha is the Tosefta, which notes that the Kohanim blew the trumpets(70). If the mitzva to assemble the people was incumbent on the Sanhedrin why did the Kohanim blow sound the trumpets? Perhaps they were agents on behalf of the court. We might add that assuming it was the Sanhedrin's responsibility to gather the nation, there was an equal responsibility on the Kohanim. The source in the Torah for this role of the Sanhedrin is that in the passuk preceding the mitzva of Hakheil, it is written that Moshe gave the Sefer Torah which he wrote to the Kohanim and the Z'keinim, the Elders. Immediately afterwards begins the mitzva of Hakheil with the words, "Moshe commanded them,"(71) alluding to the special role of Beis Din and the Kohanim in this mitzva.
In that case, we may ask, why did the Rambam omit that it was the Kohanim that blew the trumpets? He also does not mention that the Sanhedrin played a significant role in this mitzva. Additionally, the Rambam counts all of Hakheil as one mitzva, namely, to gather the nation. We cannot assume that this mitzva is the court's, since in that case there would be no mitzva on the people themselves to come to the ceremony. No one would suggest that the Rambam's view was that the nation was not included in this mitzva. In all likelihood, if the Sanhedrin did have an additional mitzva, it would be to ensure that the people fulfilled their mitzva.
Clearly then, it was the nation's mitzva. In that case, there would not be an additional mitzva incumbent on the Sanhedrin to ensure that the nation arrived for the Hakheil ceremony. How then, do we understand the Rambam's words that we are "commanded to gather the nation"?
It must then be the Rambam's understanding that Hakheil is a dual commandment. In addition to the obligation incumbent upon each individual to come to the Beis Hamikdash, each person must also gather and ensure that everyone participated in the Hakheil ceremony(72). This is why the Rambam did not mention that the kohanim blew the chatzotzros. According to the Rambam everyone was obligated to blow the trumpets. Even if the kohanim actually sounded the chatzotzros, they did so on the nation's behalf.
The Sefer Hachinuch writes that the Torah is the essence of the Jewish nation and it is the Torah that distinguishes us from the rest of humanity. Therefore it is fitting that the entire nation, men, women and children, should gather to hear its words. Anyone asking "Why has everyone gathered together?" will be told, "Hear words of the Torah, which is our entire essence, our glory and splendour." As a result, they will relate the greatness and importance of the Torah in their heart. They will then come to learn and know Hashem, as the Torah states here, "In order that they may learn and fear Hashem."(73)
May we absorb the lessons of this important mitzva and merit fulfilling it along with all the other mitzvos performed in Eretz Yisrael and the Beis Hamikdash speedily in our days.
1. Sefer Hachinuch, 612. According to the Chinuch ,min Hatorah,
biblically the observance of Shemitta is dependent on the nation
residing in Eretz Yisrael. Since Hakheil is performed following
the Shemitta year, it is dependent on the mitzva of Shemitta. The
Chazon Ish explains that if there is no Shemitta year, neither can
there be a year that follows it. There are opinions that even
during the period of the Second Beis Hamikdash, Shemitta was only
a mitzva Mid'Rabbanan, a rabbinical mitzva, since a significant
portion of the nation resided outside of Eretz Yisrael.
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