It is appropriate that the penultimate1 mitzvah given to the Jewish people personifies Jewish unity:

At the end of every seven years, at an appointed time, on the Festival of Sukkot [following] the year of Shemitah. When all Israel comes to appear before the L‑rd, your G‑d, in the place He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears. Assemble the people: the men, the women, the children, and your stranger in your cities, so that they hear, and so that they learn and fear the L‑rd, your G‑d, and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah. And their children, who did not know, will hear and learn to fear the L‑rd, your G‑d, all the days that you live on the land, to which you are crossing the Jordan, to possess.2

Since Hakhel—the septennial event requiring the entire Jewish nation to attend— has not occurred since Temple times, the exact particulars have become murky. Below we will reconstruct the fine details as depicted in the vast canon of rabbinic literature.

What Is the Mitzvah?

First, we must establish the definition of this commandment. Yereim (Eliezer ben Shmuel of Metz, 1140 - 1247) understands there to be two separate commandments: 1. An obligation for the king to read the Torah before the entire nation.3 2. A commandment for each individual to attend the Hakhel gathering.4

Most other early authorities, however, including Maimonides,5 Sefer HaChinuch6 (13th-century work listing the 613 mitzvot, author unknown), and Semag7 (Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, 13th-century), understand there to be only one commandment. The mitzvah of Hakhel is for the nation to gather to hear Torah passages that arouse their faith. Although it is well established that the King reads,8 this is a detail, not a separate commandment.

The Rebbe contends that the definition of this mitzvah goes deeper than whether it is counted as one or two on the list of 613 mitzvot. He argues that the Sefer HaChinuch and Maimonides have divergent understandings of the core element of this mitzvah.

Maimonides writes:

It is a positive commandment to gather the entire Jewish people—men, women, and children—after every Sabbatical year when they ascend for the pilgrimage holiday and to read so that they hear passages from the Torah that encourage them to perform mitzvot and strengthen them in the true faith. . .

Converts who do not understand must concentrate their attention and direct their hearing, listening with reverence and awe, rejoicing while trembling as on the day the Torah was given at Sinai. Even great sages who know the entire Torah are obligated to listen with exceedingly great concentration. One unable to hear should focus his attention on this reading, for Scripture established it solely to strengthen the true faith. He should see himself as if he was just now commanded regarding the Torah and heard it from the Almighty. For the king is an agent to make known the word of G‑d.9

The Rebbe notes a departure from Maimonides’ general style. Generally, Maimonides favors brevity over detail, especially concerning non-halachic matters. Here, however, it seems like Maimonides is devoting undue attention to the fact that the Hakhel gathering bolstered one’s faith. Surely this is a detail not particularly pertinent to the halachot of the gathering. Why devote so much time to it?

The answer, says the Rebbe, is that according to Maimonides, bolstering the nation's belief was not merely a detail.

In contrast, according to the Sefer HaChinuch, we gather to be inspired. The mitzvah is to assemble, and the inspiration is an outcome of this gathering:

Since the foundation of all Jews is rooted in the Torah . . . it is proper to gather and hear the Torah being read. Each will ask the other, “What is this great gathering?” And the response will be, “To hear the words of the Torah, which is the source of our substance. “10

According to Maimonides, however, the command is not to gather to be inspired, but to be inspired through the gathering. The emphasis is on the inspiration rather than on the gathering. This is why Maimonides spends so much time describing the inspirational elements, they are not simply details or an outcome of this mitzvah. The mitzvah itself is to relive the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and be moved by hearing the king’s reading.

The Rebbe also suggests that perhaps this is why Maimonides counts it as one mitzvah, unlike Yereim who lists one mitzvah for the king to read and another for the nation to gather. According to Maimonides, they are one and the same. The definition of the mitzvah is not that the king reads or the nation gathers. The definition of the mitzvah is to “strengthen the faith through the king's reading.”11

Who Must Attend?

Per Maimonides:

All who are exempt from the mitzvah of appearing before G‑d [in the Temple during the three Festivals] are exempt from the mitzvah of Hakhel. Except for women, children, and those uncircumcised.12

This is based on the Talmud’s comparison to the Pilgrimage Festivals. Generally, anyone not obligated in one is likewise not obligated in the other.13 Women and children, however, while exempt from attending the Pilgrimage Festivals, are obligated to attend Hakhel because they are explicitly mentioned.14

The uncircumcised are prohibited from entering the Israelite Courtyard, where the festival celebrations would occur, and are therefore exempt from attending the Pilgrimage. The Hakhel ceremony, however, took place in the section of the Temple referred to as the “Women’s Courtyard,” where an uncircumcised individual was free to enter. As such, even the uncircumcised are obligated in the mitzvah of Hakhel.

A deaf-mute, blind, intellectually deficient, bedridden, or lame individual is exempt from the Pilgrimage Festivals and Hakhel.

What about one who does not own land in Israel?

Interestingly, the Talmud notes that individuals who do not own land (in Israel) are not obligated to attend the Pilgrimage Festivals.15 But does that carry over to the mitzvah of Hakhel? Do we apply the same logic that individuals16 exempt from one are exempt from the other?

An answer to this query may be found in the analysis of the obligation of the convert. The convert is explicitly mentioned in the verse as required to attend Hakhel, but why is the convert, as a full Jew in all respects, deserving of special mention?

Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (Noda BeYehuda, 1713-1793), in his work Tzelach, suggests that converts are listed to inform us that even though we cannot expect them to own land in Israel (as there was no allotment for converts), they are still required to attend Hakhel.17

Maimonides, however, does not cite owning land as a qualification for attendance of the Pilgrimage Festivals or of Hakhel. It would seem that according to Maimonides, even individuals who do not own land must attend. The question then is what does he do with the Talmud, which seems to obligate only landowners in the Pilgrimage Festivals and presumably, by extension, Hakhel?

Some suggest that Maimonides does not accord with this section of Talmud as it cites the opinion of a single sage, Rav Ami. Although the Talmud seems to present this teaching unopposed, it can be argued that Rav—who is cited earlier in the same section of Talmud— would not agree to Rav Ami’s ruling. Therefore there is no reason to limit attendance to land owners.18

At what age must children attend?

Another issue that requires clarification is from what age children are expected to attend Hakhel. Clearly, that depends on the reason for their attendance.

According to Deuteronomy:

And their children, who did not know, will hear and learn to fear the L‑rd, your G‑d.19

Talmud in tractate Chagigah:

Assemble the people, the men, and the women and the children.20 [This verse is puzzling.] If men come to learn and women come to hear, why do the children come? They come for G‑d to give reward to those who bring them.21

The question is obvious. The verse itself states why children should attend: to “hear and learn to fear G‑d.” So what is the Talmud’s question?

Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, 1555–1631) explains that the verse in Deuteronomy refers to children who are old enough to understand and appreciate the magnitude of the gathering. The Talmud’s question, on the other hand, was regarding children too young to comprehend. For such children, what is the purpose of their attendance? “To reward those who bring them.”

Maharsha understood that even children too young to comprehend are to attend Hakhel. This is likewise the opinion of the Minchat Chinuch (popular commentary to the Sefer HaChinuch, written by Rabbi Yosef Babad, 1801-1874), who writes that any child considered “viable” (i.e., older than 30 days) must be brought to Hakhel.

The Rebbe questions the conclusion of the Minchat Chinuch on two fronts. First, if it’s a Biblical requirement to bring even very small children, then if we are unsure whether or not a child is viable, the child should still be brought. This follows the principle that when there is doubt regarding a Biblical matter, it is ruled strictly. So why does the Minchat Chinuch exclude babies who have not developed to the point of being “viable?”

Secondly, asks the Rebbe, since children attend to “reward to those who bring them,” why does the child’s age matter? All children, including infants (travel and health permitting), should attend. Therefore, according to the Rebbe, there is no reason to limit Hakhel to children above the age of 30 days.22

Others seem to rule that only children of a certain maturity level are to attend Hakhel. Nachmanides writes that from the verse in Deuteronomy (“And their children, who did not know, will hear and learn to fear the L‑rd, your G‑d.”), we see that the Torah refers to children who can appreciate the message of the gathering.

Although he cites the Talmud, which seems to imply otherwise, he does not provide a resolution.23 It is possible that according to Nachmanides, parents are only obligated to bring children of a certain maturity, but parents who bring their younger offspring are worthy of reward, even though there is no obligation.

We established that children are obligated as they are listed explicitly in the verse, but since we generally do not impose obligations on minors, the obligation is for the parents to ensure that their children attend the gathering (as is evident from the language of the Talmud.)

This leads to an interesting outcome indicated by the Minchat Chinuch. Since the obligation rests upon the adult, even if a child would be exempt in adulthood (due to medical or other reasons), they must still attend as a child. The reason they must attend is not as preparation to properly perform the mitzvot as adults—an obligation known as chinuch, but because they are explicitly mentioned in the verse as their own category.

When Was the Gathering?

At the conclusion of the first day of the Festival [of Sukkot], in the eighth year after the conclusion of the Sabbatical Year, they construct a wooden platform for the king in the Temple Courtyard, and he sits on it, as it is stated: “At the end of every seven years, in the Festival.”24

According to this Mishnah, it is clear that Hakhel took place directly following the first day of Sukkot—on the first of the intermediate days.25 A little counterintuitively, Rashi understands that the Biblical mandate was for Hakhel to take place on the festival's first day, on Yom Tov itself. It was pushed to the first of the intermediate days, however, because the platform from which the king read could not be constructed on Yom Tov—due to the halachot prohibiting construction.26 This platform could not have been constructed earlier, prior to the festival, as space in the Temple was extremely limited, and the platform would have taken up too much space.

Tosafot27 expresses surprise at Rashi’s explanation: “Since when would the construction of a platform push off a Biblically mandated date?” he asks. “Nowhere do we find a Biblical obligation to build this platform. It would be preferable for Hakhel to be held on the Biblically mandated date, even with no platform.” Additionally, he asserts that even if this platform was an integral component, Rashi's explanation of constructing it during the intermediate days of the Festival is insufficient, as such construction would be prohibited during the intermediate days too.

Tosafot therefore concludes that the Biblical mandate was for the Hakhel ceremony to take place during the intermediate days of the Festival. He interprets the word ”במעד” (“in the festival”) in the verse quoted above as referring specifically to chol hamoed (the intermediate days of the Festival).28 Therefore, the Biblical mandate only begins after the festival's first day has concluded and the intermediate days have begun.

Regarding the issue of construction during the festival, Tosafot suggests that the platform was constructed before the festival and stored away. After Yom Tov, they would take out the pieces and place them together in a way that did not transgress the prohibition of construction.

We have established that the Hakhel gathering occurred on the first day of chol hamoed. But a question remains: Was this done right after the conclusion of Yom Tov, after nightfall, or did it occur the next morning?

Tosafot’s phrasing strongly implies that the gathering occurred the evening directly following Yom Tov.29 However, Rabbi Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz-Teomim (1843-1905, known by the acronym Aderet), in his treatise on Hakhel titled Zecher Lamikdash, questions this. He wonders if Hakhel could take place in the evening since the verse states that it be held “When all Israel gathers, to see,” i.e., during the daytime, since only in daylight can one “see.”30 Indeed, the Meiri (Rabbi Menachem Meiri 13th-14th century) was of the opinion that Hakhel took place on the first day of chol hamoed.31

The wording of many other Rishonim is ambiguous and can be read either way. For example, Maimonides writes:

When would they read? At the conclusion of the first day of the festival, which is the first day of the intermediate days of the festival.32

The term “conclusion of the festival” (במוצאי יום טוב הראשון של חג הסוכות) may be a reference to the actual conclusion of the first day of the festival, which would denote nighttime. Alternatively, it may reference the 24-hour period following the first day of the festival, as the second statement implies, “the first day of the intermediate days of the festival.”

The Sefer HaChinuch writes:

The Nation shall gather on the second day of the Festival.33

The Semag writes:

On the first of the intermediate days of the Festival.34

Some want to infer that the word “day” denotes specifically daytime. Others read the word “day” as a reference to the entire 24-hour period but not specifically daytime. They believe that Hakhel actually took place on the night following the first day of the festival (the first available opportunity).

In summary, we find two disagreements regarding the timing of Hakhel. One between Rashi and Tosafot regarding the ideal date from a Biblical perspective. And a second disagreement between Tosafot and Meiri (et al.) concerning whether or not the ceremony took place at night.

Where Did Hakhel Take Place?

We find various views as to precisely where Hakhel was held. The Mishnah (quoted above) states that the ceremony was held in “the Courtyard of the Temple.”35

The Mishnah uses the term Azarah (עזרה), which refers to a general area. The Talmud clarifies that this refers to the Women’s Courtyard (so named because a viewing platform reserved specifically for women was constructed there), as opposed to the Israelite Courtyard from which the visitors would observe the Temple service during the festivals.

As proof that the ceremony occurred in the Women's Courtyard, the Talmud cites the episode of King Agrippa’s conduct during the Hakhel ceremony. The Mishnah states that he rose to receive the Torah scroll, which implies that he had been seated until that point. Now, in the Israelite Courtyard, only kings from the house of David were permitted to sit. As such, the fact that King Agrippa—who was not from the house of David—was sitting proves that Hakhel took place in the Women’s Courtyard.

According to the Jerusalem Talmud, however, the Hakhel ceremony occurred in the Israelite Courtyard. But how could the kings sit in the Israelite Courtyard?36 The Talmud explains that the king was not actually sitting, but leaning on a wall, neither sitting nor standing.37

Finally, the Tosefta records the opinion of Rabbi Eliezar Ben Yaakov, who attested that the Hakhel ceremony took place on the Temple Mount, outside the Temple.38

Which Torah Scroll Was Used?

On the last day of Moses’s life, he wrote a Torah scroll and placed it in the Aron Habrit (Ark of the Covenant), which was eventually housed in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Rashi writes that this scroll was used by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur and by the king for Hakhel.39 There is much discussion in the latter authorities as to precisely how this scroll was extracted and replaced in the Aron, as the Kohen Gadol was only permitted to enter the Holy of Holies once a year, on Yom Kippur. The Ravyah (Rabbi Eliezer ben Yoel HaLevi, 12th-13th century) suggests that the Kohen Gadol removed it when he entered on Yom Kippur and replaced it the following year. Alternatively, he suggests, perhaps the Kohen Gadol was permitted to enter to retrieve and replace the scroll, to fulfill the Hakhel requirements.40

Others are of the opinion that the King's own scroll was used. The king was commanded to write (or commission) a scroll for his own personal use, which was used for Hakhel, thus skirting the issues surrounding entering the Holy of Holies.41 Still others assert that the scroll used was simply taken from the Temple Synagogue, as is implied in the Mishnah:

The attendant of the synagogue would take the Torah scroll and give it to the head of the synagogue. He would give it to the segan (assistant to the High Priest), who would give it to the High Priest, who would give it to the king.42

Rashi seems to contradict himself here. In Tractate Yoma, the Mishnah discusses the reading of the Torah on Yom Kippur by the Kohen Gadol and describes the process of handing the scroll to the Kohen Gadol precisely as above (minus the king). There, Rashi explains that there was a synagogue located close to the Temple courtyard, implying that the scroll was taken from there,43 unlike his explanation quoted above, where the scroll was taken—both for the high priest on Yom Kippur and the king on Hakhel—from the Ark of the Covenant.44

The simple explanation is that these Mishanyot describe the process as it took place in the Second Temple period. Before the destruction of the first Temple, the Temple's vessels—including the Ark of the Covenant—were secured in a chamber deep underground, safe from the invading forces. As such, in the Second Temple, there was no Ark of the Covenant and no scroll from Moses, and the scroll used was taken from the Temple synagogue.

Who Reads?

It seems evident that the king is the one who reads. In fact, the Mishnah names the event Parshat Hamelech (“portion of the king”). Nevertheless, discussion persists as to the source for this requirement. According to Rashi, the source is the verse stated in reference to the king’s obligation to write for himself a Torah scroll, which can be read as referring only to Deuteronomy, the last of the five books of the Torah.45 Of course, the obligation is to write all five books, so why reference only the last one? The Midrash explains that this reference is to the fact that on Hakhel, the king read only from the Deuteronomy, thereby making it clear that it was the king who read.46

Others see it in the verse, “You shall read this Torah before all Israel,” referring to Joshua, who was de facto king. The singular language of the verse denotes that there is a specific person who should be doing the reading—namely the king.47

The Minchat Chinuch was unsure if the king was integral to Hakhel or if the fact that the king read was simply how it evolved since there is no clear Biblical source requiring the king to read. He concludes that to him it makes sense that if there is no king, the leader of the generation could read.48 But it seems that those who derive from a Biblical verse that the king was the one to read would not accept another leader in his stead.

What Was Read?

There is disagreement among the Rishonim as to precisely how the reading was conducted. Maimonides writes:

[The king] starts from the beginning of the Chumash Devarim: "These are the words..." until the end of the passage of Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). He then skips to the passage “And it shall come to pass if you shall hearken” (Deuteronomy 11:13–21) and then skips to the passage “You shall tithe” (Deuteronomy 14:22). He then reads from that passage in order until the end of the blessing and curses, i.e., until the phrase: "besides the covenant, He established with them in Horeb," (Deuteronomy 28:69) where he concludes.49

This is based on the Mishnah:

And [the king] reads from the beginning of Deuteronomy, from the verse that states: “And these are the words” (Deuteronomy 1:1), until the words: “Hear, O Israel” (Deuteronomy 6:4). And he then reads the sections beginning with: “Hear, O Israel” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9), “And it shall come to pass, if you shall hearken” (Deuteronomy 11:13–21), “You shall tithe” (Deuteronomy 14:22–29), “When you have made an end of the tithing” (Deuteronomy 26:12–15), and the passage concerning the appointment of a king (Deuteronomy 17:14–20), and the blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 28) until he finishes the entire portion.50

The disagreement is regarding the conclusion of the reading, as the language of the Mishnah can be interpreted in more than one way. Maimonides understood that we read the verses in order of their appearance in the Torah. Since the passage regarding the appointment of the king (Deuteronomy 17:14–20) appears before the passage “When you have made an end of the tithing” (Deuteronomy 26:12–15), we do not skip and then return to it, even though the Mishnah lists the passages that way.

Rashi, on the other hand, believes that it is correct to follow the order of the Mishnah and therefore skip the passage regarding the appointment of the king and return to it later.51

How Was Hakhel Conducted?

The details of the ceremony are described by the Mishnah and Talmud in various places. We will quote the straightforward version of Maimonides:

How is the reading conducted? Trumpets are sounded throughout Jerusalem to gather the people. A large wooden platform is brought and set up in the center of the Women's Courtyard. The king ascends and sits on it so that they will be able to hear his reading. All of the Jewish people who made the festive pilgrimage gathered around him. The attendant of the synagogue would take the Torah scroll and give it to the head of the synagogue. He would give it to the segen, who would give it to the High Priest, who would give it to the king. The transfer involved many people as an expression of respect.

The king accepts the scroll while standing. If he desires, he may sit when reading. He opens it, looks at it, and recites the blessings like anyone who is reading the Torah in a synagogue. He reads the passages mentioned in the previous halachah until he completes them.

He rolls the scroll closed and recites the blessing afterward as it is done in synagogues. He adds seven blessings which are:

1. "Grant favor, G‑d, our L‑rd, to Your people Israel...." (The Retzeh blessing from the amidah prayer.)

2. "We thankfully acknowledge You...." (The Modim blessing from the amidah.)

3. "You chose us from all the nations..." until "Who sanctifies Israel and the festive seasons," as one recites in prayer. (Atah B'chartanu from the Festival amidah.) Thus there are three blessings with set texts.

4. For the fourth blessing, he prays for the Temple, that it should remain standing and concludes: "Blessed are You, G‑d, Who dwells in Zion."

5. For the fifth, he prays for the Jewish people, that their kingdom prevails, and concludes: "...Who chooses Israel."

6. For the sixth, he prays for the priests, that G‑d should desire their service, and concludes: "Blessed are You, G‑d, Who sanctifies the priests."

7. For the seventh, he offers supplication and prays according to his ability and concludes: "G‑d, deliver Your nation Israel, for Your nation Israel is in need of salvation. Blessed are You, G‑d, Who heeds prayer."52

The Blowing of the Trumpets

Concerning the blowing of the Trumpets, there is some discussion as to whether or not this detail is of Biblical origin. Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762–1839), in his work Chatam Sofer, argues that blowing the trumpets is a Biblical imperative derived from this verse in Numbers:

Make yourself two silver trumpets; you shall make them [from a] beaten [form]; they shall be used by you to summon the congregation and to announce the departure of the camps. . . And when assembling the congregation, you shall blow a tekiah [long blast] but not a teruah.53

He argues that any gathering of the nation should be heralded by these trumpets, including Hakhel. Although he does point out that, at least according to Rashi, some gatherings were not announced with the trumpets, he argues that there is disagreement among the early authorities,54 and it is therefore entirely possible that there was indeed a Biblical imperative to gather the nation by blowing the trumpets for Hakhel.55

Others suggest that while the gathering of the nation was Biblically mandated, there is no Biblically prescribed method as to how this gathering should be accomplished. As such, when the Kohanim blew the trumpets to gather the nation, they were fulfilling a Biblical command, although it could also have been carried out in other ways.56

Still others argue that blowing the trumpets was purely rabbinic in nature, with no Biblical imperative whatsoever.57 They argue that the verse, “gather the nation,” references the actual gathering and not the lead-up to it. This is also possibly the reason why all Kohanim, even those not qualified for service in the Temple due to physical blemishes, took part in the blowing of the trumpets. As the Tosefta describes: “Any Kohen not clutching a trumpet would have his lineage questioned.”58 If there was a Biblical imperative to sound these trumpets, it makes sense that only a Kohen fit for Temple service would be able to take part.

Why No Blessing of Shehecheyanu?

We listed eight blessings recited by the king—one before the reading and seven afterward. In the Talmud and the early authorities, we find no mention of the blessing of Shehecheyanu, which is recited on mitzvot performed on occasion. It seems Hakhel would be the perfect opportunity to recite the blessing, so why no mention of it?

Some, like Rabbi Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz-Teomim, in Zecher Lamikdash, seem to understand that Shehecheyanu was in fact said, although he does not provide a reason for its omission in the list of blessings.59

Most authorities seem to take the absence of Shehecheyanu from the list as an indication that it was not in fact recited. The obvious question is why.

A number of explanations have been offered.

Firstly, Marshal (Rabbi Shlomo Luria, 1510–1573) articulates a principle that whenever there is no blessing established for a specific mitzvah, there is likewise no Shehecheyanu.60 With regard to Hakhel, while it is true that eight blessings are recited, according to most opinions there is no blessing on the actual mitzvah of Hakhel. No blessing “al mitzvat hakhel” as we find with shofar, sukkah, lulav, matzah, etc. Since there is no specific blessing established for Hakhel, there is also no Shehecheyanu recited. However, this has not solved our quandary. The question now becomes: why indeed is there no blessing specifically for Hakhel?61

To answer this, we must look to the Responsa of the Maharsham (Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Schwadron, 1835–1911). He resolves our initial quandary as to why no Shehecheyanu was recited, by explaining that while the gathering that took place was obviously a crucial element of the mitzvah, the gathering was not the be-all and end-all. Hakhel was first and foremost to “strengthen the faith” of the nation. As the verse states, “In order that they hear, and in order that they learn and fear the L‑rd, your G‑d, and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah.” This was not merely a detail; it was the whole point of the gathering. Strengthening faith was accomplished by simply attending the gathering. It takes time for the grandeur of the event and the messages of inspiration to percolate and have the intended effect. Therefore, since the mitzvah was not completed at the time of the gathering, no Shehecheyanu was recited.62 Shehecheyanu is only recited if the mitzvah will be completed at that time; if it can only be considered completed sometime in the future, Shehecheyanu is not said.63

We may suggest an addendum to Marshal’s explanation above. It is possible that he would agree to Maharsham’s explanation that the core element of the mitzvah was not accomplished right away, which is why we do not recite a specific blessing for the mitzvah of Hakhel. There is no reason to make a blessing over the gathering since it is not the core element of Hakhel.

This was also the approach of the Rebbe, as explored at the outset, and will be further unpacked in the section that follows.

A Year of Hakhel

We articulated at the opening the Rebbe’s understanding of the fundamental nature of Hakhel and his reading of Maimonides. We saw that according to the Rebbe, “strengthening the faith” is not simply an element of Hakhel; rather, it is the actual mitzvah. This is clearly in line with the comments of the Maharsham above regarding the blessing Shehecheyanu. We may add that the lack of any mention of Shehecheyanu is further proof of the Rebbe’s approach.

The Rebbe, however, takes this further. He was the first to talk about the Hakhel gathering as something that has practical ramifications throughout the entire year and even in times of exile when no formal ceremony is held in the Temple. The Rebbe emphasized that while no formal remembrance of the ceremony was established (for good reason64 ), this does not preclude us from observing Hakhel in some way today. While we must wait for the coming of Moshiach to reconstruct the Biblically ordained ceremony of Temple times, the spiritual aspect, which is the core element of Hakhel, is as relevant as ever.

He coined the phrase Shenat Hakhel (“Year of Hakhel”), encouraging all to organize Hakhel gatherings in their communities. To come together, share words of inspiration, and increase mitzvah observance. While the responsibility for this rests chiefly with the leaders of the community (the “kings”) none are free of obligation. We can all, on some scale, gather our friends and family in the spirit of Hakhel, encouraging and strengthening each other.65