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Hakhel in the Holy Temple

Hakhel in the Holy Temple

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The first Hakhel gathering occurred 22 years after the Israelites entered the land of Israel (in the 13th century BCE). In the presence of all the Jews gathered in the city of Shiloh, then home to the Tabernacle, Joshua read the prescribed Hakhel reading. The Torah says that Hakhel gathering follows the Shemitah year, and the Shemitah cycle did not begin until after the Jews completely conquered and divided the land—a process that lasted fourteen years.1

The gathering takes place in the venue where we "appear before G‑d"The Hakhel gatherings continued as long as the Jews resided in the Holy Land.2

Time and Place

The Hakhel gathering is scheduled for the 16th of Tishrei, the second day of Sukkot—the first of Sukkot's "Intermediate Days" (Chol Hamoed).3 If the 16th of Tishrei falls on Shabbat, the Hakhel is postponed until Sunday.4

The Torah tells us to do the Hakhel gathering "When all Israel comes to appear before G‑d." As such, the gathering takes place in the venue where we "appear before G‑d." Once the Temple was built in Jerusalem, all Hakhel gathering take place in the Temple courtyard.

The Participants

The king of Israel reads from the Torah. If there is no king – as was the case in the hundreds of years until Saul was anointed –the leader of the generation reads.

Attendance is mandatory for all Jews: men, women and children.5 There are a select few who are exempt from Hakhel—such as the elderly for whom it would be difficult to make the trek to Jerusalem and those who are ritually impure.6

The Ceremony

On the long-awaited day, the kohanim (priests) fan out throughout Jerusalem and blow golden bugles to assemble the nation. "A kohen (priest) without a bugle in his hands, it appears as if he's not a kohen..."7

A large wooden platform is erected in middle of the Temple courtyard,8 and the entire nation gathers around it. The king climbs up on to the platform and takes a seat. The caretaker of the Temple's chapel takes the Torah scroll that Moses wrote on the day he died (the "courtyard Torah") and hands it to the one in charge of the chapel, who hands it to the Deputy High Priest, who hands it to the High Priest. The king then rises, accepts the Torah from the High Priest, sits down and begins reading. (One of the kings in the Second Temple Era stood while he read, out of respect for the Torah and the people, and his actions were lauded by the Sages.)

The king then rises, accepts the Torah from the High Priest, sits down and begins readingBefore he begins to read, the king recites a blessing on the Torah—the same one recited before receiving an aliyah to the Torah. He then reads the following sections from Deuteronomy: 1:1-6:9 (this section concludes with the Shema); 11:13-21 (the second section of the Shema); 14:22-27 (a section that discusses the obligation to tithe produce—especially relevant during Sukkot, the Harvest Festival); 26:12-25 (anther section discussing the tithes); 17:14-20 (a brief section discussing the laws pertaining to a Jewish king)9; and he concludes with 28:1-69 (blessing and curses).10

After he finishes reading, the king recites aloud eight blessings (the first four are taken from the prayers, the next four the king says extemporaneously): 1) The standard blessing recited after an aliyah. 2) The Retzeh blessing from the amidah prayer. 3) The Modim blessing from the amidah. 4) The Atah B'chartanu from the festival amidah. 5) A prayer beseeching G‑d that the Holy Temple should remain standing, concluding with the words "Blessed are You, G‑d, who resides in Zion." 6) A prayer for the wellbeing of the Jewish monarchy, concluding with the words "Blessed are You, G‑d, who chooses Israel." 7) A prayer that G‑d should favorably accept the priestly service, concluding with the words "Blessed are You, G‑d, who sanctifies the Kohanim." 8) A prayer and supplication wherein he beseeches G‑d for all His heart's desires, concluding with the words "Help, O G‑d, Your nation Israel, for Your nation needs salvation; blessed are You, G‑d, who hears prayer."11

Footnotes
1.

Talmud, Sotah 41a.

2.

According to certain opinions, the Hakhel ceremonies in the times of the Second Temple were not by Biblical mandate, because at that time already the majority of the Jews were not in Israel, and as such the observance of Shemitah was due to rabbinic injunction—as was Hakhel.

3.

Sotah ibid. Though the Torah states ambiguously "in the festival of Sukkot," and as such the Hakhel could have taken place on the first day of the holiday, it was postponed until Chol Hamoed because the king would read from atop a specially erected platform—whose construction cannot be done on Yom Tov. (The large platform could not be constructed in advance, before the onset of Yom Tov, because its presence in the Temple courtyard during Yom Tov would have caused an unreasonable overcrowding.)

4.

Talmud, Megillah 5a. Aside for the reason mentioned in the previous footnote, which applies to Shabbat as well, there are additional reasons why Hakhel couldn't take place on Shabbat. Among them: a) Part of the Hakhel ceremony involved the king offering supplications on behalf of the nation, On Shabbat it is not allowed to offer such prayers. b) On Shabbat it would not be permitted to carry infants to the Temple.

5.

Women are exempt from (almost all) positive mitzvot ("do's") that must be performed at a specific time or on a particular date. As such, women are exempt from the obligation to make pilgrimage to the Temple thrice yearly. Hakhel is an exception to that rule.

6.

See Maimonides, Laws of Chagigah 3:2.

7.

Tosefta, Sotah ch. 7.

8.

Actually, the sections of the platform are constructed before the onset of the holiday – so as to avoid major construction on Chol Hamoed – and it is simply assembled right before the gathering.

9.

In Deuteronomy, this section precedes the one read beforehand, but since the two previous sections both discuss the tithes, the king reads them consecutively.

10.

There are different versions in the Mishnah in tractate Sotah (41a) that discusses the exact order of the king's reading. The order laid out above reflects Rashi's version.

11.

Mishnah, Sotah ibid.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Bruce Bassman May 3, 2016

Also, which Jewish Kings took part in Hakhel? Reply

Bruce Bassman Brooklyn May 3, 2016

Descriptive Texts I would like to read all there is in the writings about Hakhel (in English translation of course). Can you give me a list of the texts where it appears? I have found Tosefta On Line, but can't find the relevant texts. Thank you. Reply

Naftali Silberberg (author) Brooklyn October 15, 2015

Re: No king - who reads There are many sources for this idea, one of them is the Minchas Chinuch (Mitzvah 612). For more sources, see Encyclopedia Talmudis vol. 10, p. 443, fn. 17. Reply

Ari E-B September 24, 2015

No king - who reads What's the source for the leader of the generation reading the torah if there is no king? I don't see it in Rambam. Reply

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