The Timing of Hakhel

Mikeitz sheva shanim b’moed shnas haShemittah b’Chag haSukkos … tikra es haTorah hazos (Devarim 31:10–11)

Parashas Vayeilech contains the mitzvah of hakhel, in which Moshe commanded all of the Jewish people — men, women and children — to gather together to hear the reading of the book of Devarim by the king every seven years, during the festival of Sukkos following the Shemittah year. Harav Avraham Gurwitz, Rosh Yeshivah of Gateshead, points out that the mitzvah of hakhel involves the confluence of three mitzvos: the end of the Shemittah year, the festival of Sukkos, and aliyah l’regel (ascending to the Temple thrice annually for the festival pilgrimage). He suggests that all three of them have a common theme: strengthening our emunah and bitachon (faith and trust in Hashem).

The connection between the Shemittah year and bitachon is self-evident, as during the Shemittah year farmers are forbidden to work their fields and must instead place their faith in Hashem to sustain them for an entire year. At the conclusion of this year of observing how Hashem provided for them and their families and witnessing the fulfillment of the Torah’s blessing (Vayikra 25:21) that the land will miraculously produce enough to sustain them for three years, they reach new heights in their trust in Hashem.

Similarly, the mitzvah of ascending to the Temple on Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos also serves to strengthen a Jew’s emunah. At the same time that a person is experiencing the holiest place on earth where Hashem’s Divine Presence is palpable, he is also leaving his home and possessions unsupervised and unprotected. In return for our trust in Hashem, He guards our properties and specifically promises (Shemos 34:24) to ensure that nobody will covet our land or try to steal it in our absence.

Finally, the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah also teaches the lesson of emunah, as it commemorates the miracle of the Clouds of Glory which surrounded and protected the Jews during their travels in the wilderness. After Hashem redeemed the Jews from slavery in Egypt, they found themselves in a barren desert with no protection from the elements, yet they trusted in Hashem to provide for them, a bitachon which was rewarded with the miraculous Clouds of Glory.

The Torah specifically ordains that the mitzvah of hakhel be performed in conjunction with the observance of three mitzvos, all of which serve to imbue within us the knowledge and recognition that it is Hashem Who sustains us and protects us. Although this mitzvah is not presently in effect, its message is still relevant to each of us.

Our daily lives are often so harried and pressured that we are distracted from dedicating more time to spiritual matters. As we prepare for the impending Day of Judgment on Yom Kippur and engage in sincere introspection, many of us are honest enough to admit that we should reprioritize our lives and focus more of our energy on Torah and mitzvos, yet we also justify our difficulties in doing so by our need to make a living and support our families.

To counter this misguided reasoning, the Torah commands us to gather for the mitzvah of hakhel at the most conducive time possible, when we will have strengthened our bitachon and internalized the awareness that it is Hashem Who sustains us, not our overtime hours in the office. Specifically at this time we will be open to absorbing the Torah’s messages read publicly by the king, and to committing ourselves to reevaluate our values and priorities.

In our prayers and requests for the upcoming year, we should beseech Hashem to provide us not only with peace, success and health, but also with the serenity and tranquility that come naturally to a person who lives his life with true emunah and bitachon.

Q: If a person is capable of writing a valid sefer Torah, is it preferable to perform this mitzvah (Devarim 31:19) himself or by hiring a professional scribe whose sefer Torah will be more beautiful?

Q: The Shulchan Aruch rules (606:1) that Yom Kippur will not atone for sins in which one has hurt another Jew until he has been appeased. Is a person required to pacify somebody who is upset at him without a legitimate cause?

A: The Chayei Adam raises this question and writes that he is unsure of the answer. Harav Elyakim Devorkes quotes a number of sources who maintain that the principle of doing a mitzvah in a more ideal manner takes precedence over the idea that it is better to do a mitzvah oneself instead of through an agent.

A: The Gemara records that one of the Amora’im felt insulted by one of the other Rabbis and was upset. The other Rabbi approached him in order to appease him. Based on the details of the original incident, the Sfas Emes notes that the Amora had no legal basis for his feelings. Nevertheless, the other Sage went to pacify him. The Sfas Emes derives from here that one is required to appease his friend even if the ill feelings are not legally warranted. This is because there is a goal that everybody should make peace with one another before Yom Kippur, independent of whether the wounded party is justified in his feelings.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.