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A Rosh Hashana Message: What Exactly Is Hakhel?

A Rosh Hashana Message: What Exactly Is Hakhel?

5741 [1980-81]

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By the Grace of G‑d
Erev Shabbos-kodesh, 18 Elul
Sedra: “Come into the land”
Haphtorah: “Arise, shine, for your
light is come”
“The Seventh Year, a Shabbos unto G‑d,”
5740. [August 30, 1980] Brooklyn, N.Y.

To The Sons and Daughters of our
People Israel, Everywhere,
G‑d bless you all,

Heartfelt Shalom and Blessing:

As the year 5740 draws to its conclusion, and in these last days of preparation for the New Year—may it bring goodness and blessing to us and all our Jewish people, it is fitting to reflect on a point which, though mentioned on previous occasions, is particularly timely and relevant now; relevant also in terms of action, which is the essential thing.

We are referring to the fact that the outgoing year is a year of Shemittah, and the incoming year is a year of Hakhel.

The Mitzvah of Hakhel, as ordained in the Torah, is that at the end of every seven years, immediately after the year of Shemittah, when Jews make their pilgrimage to the Beis Hamikdosh (Temple), during the festival of Succos, all Jews had to be gathered (hakhel)—the men, and the women, and the children, even babies, and the king read to them sections from the Torah, selected for their content to stimulate Jews in the observance of Mitzvos and strengthen them in their faith and in Yiddishkeit; and it made a profound impression on them, as if they heard it from G‑d Himself.

One of the reasons why the mitzvah of Hakhel has been reserved for this particular time is the following: Inasmuch as the year of Shemittah is a “Shabbos unto G‑d,” when the time that was released from work in the field and orchard (the principal occupation in those days) was dedicated to increased Torah study, and to prayer and Mitzvos, in the fullest measure, it was the proper and fitting preparation to make their pilgrimage, all as one nation, and to make the people most receptive to the Torah reading, “as if they heard it from G‑d,” so that it evoked in them a profound soulful experience, as when the Torah was given at Sinai; and the impression was so deeply engraved upon their hearts and minds that it was subsequently reflected in the everyday life throughout all the years ahead.

Although the Mitzvah of Hakhel, in its concrete and plain form, is connected with the time of the Beis Hamikdosh, there is the well-known principle that all matters that are connected with the Beis Hamikdosh, such as sacrifices and the like, are in their spiritual content relevant at all times. This is why the daily prayers, which have been enacted in the place of the sacrifices, substitute for them. A Jew prays with all his heart, offers himself completely in submission to his Creator, and is ready to sacrifice the best of his possessions and his most passionate interests (the “fat and the blood”) to the will of G‑d—and it is acceptable to G‑d as a “burnt offering” in the Beis Hamikdosh. Indeed, also during the times when Jews had a central Sanctuary and Mikdosh and actually offered sacrifices there, it was the Jewish heart that He desired most, in accordance with His imperative, request, and promise: “Let them make Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell within them”—in their innermost Jewish hearts.

The same is true of Shemittah. For although the commandment to work the soil for six years and rest during the seventh year is confined to the Land of Israel (where the soil, too, is sacred) and not anywhere else, yet the spiritual content of Shemittah as a “Shabbos unto G‑d,” in the sense of the holiness of Shabbos, is enduring and relevant everywhere and at all times, and is bound up with the holiness of the “Holy Nation”; and this holiness transcends the limitations of time and space.

In light of the above, and since we are at the threshold of the year of Hakhel, it behooves everyone of us to reflect earnestly on the content and purpose of this Mitzvah, which is, as the Torah declares: “. . . in order that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear G‑d, your G‑d, and observe to do all the words of this Torah; and that their children, who know not (as yet), should hear and learn to fear G‑d, your G‑d.”


It is also obvious how strongly the Mitzvah of Hakhel emphasizes the Torah-education of our children. It follows that also those who are grown in years but still “children” in Yiddishkeit; all those “who know not,” who, for one reason or another, did not get the proper Jewish education; and even those who belong to the category of “one who knows not to ask,” namely, those who do not know, and do not feel, that they miss something and should ask and seek help—these also must be assembled to let them hear and learn what Torah is, what a Mitzvah is, in a manner of learning that would imbue them with fear of G‑d, and, most importantly, that they should “observe and do all the words of this Torah,” the Torah from Sinai that shall never be changed — all of the above with such impact, “as if they heard it from G‑d Himself.”


May G‑d grant that everyone, man, woman and child in the midst of all our people should act in all the above mentioned matters, to strengthen, deepen, and disseminate Yiddishkeit in the everyday life, both in themselves and their families as well as in their surroundings, in the fullest measure, and this will bring still more blessings with the kesivo vachasimo toivo in all respects, materially and spiritually.

And all Jews—the men, and the women, and the young children—should very soon indeed merit the true and complete Geulo through our righteous Mashiach, through realizing and acting accordingly and from now on while still in Golus: “We are Your people and sheep of Your pasture, we will thank You for ever; we will tell Your praise to generation and generation.”

With esteem and blessing for a
Kesivo vachasimo toivo for a
Good and Sweet Year, and for
Hatzlocho in all above,

/Signed: Menachem Schneerson/

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