1. [The farbrengen began with the song “Ata Vechartonu — You have chosen us,] the words and tune of which have a connection with Simchas Torah. The relation of “You have chosen us” to Torah is explained by the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch. There he states the Halachah “that when the words ‘You have chosen us’ are said in the prayer preceding the ‘Shema’ we should remember Mattan Torah” (Orach Chaim Ch. 64).1

In Tanya the Alter Rebbe explains that the fact that “You have chosen us” is for us a source of Simchah. There he states that the phrase, “and You have chosen us from among all nations and tongues,” refers to the material body of the Jew. Our bodies are, in their corporeal aspects, similar to those of the gentiles. The fact that Hashem has chosen the material body of a Jew from among all the nations of the world gives a Jew great joy, and teaches him an important lesson, as explained in Tanya Ch. 49.

This explanation of the phrase is relevant to Simchas Torah every year. However this year, a Hakhel year, there is an additional lesson to be gained. Even though this additional lesson is emphasized only in the year of Hakhel, it is, nevertheless, relevant for all times.

We learn this from the verses which describe Hakhel. The verse states that Hakhel would influence a Jew “all the days which you live upon the face of the earth.” The inspiration and the lasting influence of Hakhel is even greater than that of the three Pilgrim Festivals enumerated in the Torah: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the L‑rd your G‑d in the place where He will choose — on the Festival of Matzos, on the Festival of Shavuos, and on the festival of Sukkos” (Devorim 16:16). From each of these pilgrimages to the Holy Temple a Jew drew inspiration. This inspiration would last until the next pilgrimage. The inspiration and the influence which a Jew receives from the Hakhel, however, he feels for “all the days which you live upon the earth.”2

2. As mentioned above, Simchas Torah is connected with Mattan Torah. Likewise, Hakhel has a unique relationship with Mattan Torah. The commandment in Torah regarding the Hakhel is stated as follows:

Hakhel (assemble) the people, the men and the women and the children, and the stranger that is within your gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the L‑rd your G‑d, and observe to do all the words of this law; and that their children, who have not known, may hear, and learn to fear the L‑rd your G‑d all the days which you live on the land (Ibid. 31:12-13).

During the Hakhel the king of Yisroel read the Torah to the Hakhel gathering. Similarly, at the time of the giving of the Torah, G‑d commanded the king of the nation of Yisroel, Moshe Rabbeinu, to “Assemble Me the people, and I will make them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.” Another similarity is the fact that the whole and complete Torah was given at Mattan Torah, and the verse regarding the Hakhel states that the purpose of Hakhel is that Jews “observe all the words of this Torah.” The similarities of Hakhel to Mattan Torah underscore the connection of the one to the other.

There is, however, a major difference between the Hakhel which took place prior to Mattan Torah, and the Hakhel which occurred once every seven years at the Holy Temple. Regarding the Hakhel which occurred every seven years, the Torah enumerates particulars. The verse which commands the Hakhel which occurs once in seven years states: “assemble the people — the men and the women and the children.” Regarding the Hakhel which occurred prior to Mattan Torah, however, particulars are not enumerated. The verse simply states: “assemble the people,” without making any differentiation between men, women, and children. The explanation for this is as follows:

The giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai had more profound effects than the obvious result that we now had the Torah whereas before we didn’t. The event of Mattan Torah also effected a major change in the world.

Before the giving of the Torah our patriarchs knew the Torah and learned the Torah, as the Talmud states: “All of our forefathers studied Torah even before the event of Mattan Torah.” The level of Torah learning that Avraham Avinu attained was surpassed by his son Yitzchok. The level of Torah study that Yitzchok attained was increased upon by Ya’akov. Each patriarch received Torah knowledge from the patriarch(s) that preceded him, and then added to it.3

Especially regarding our forefather Ya’akov, who sat in the tents of Shem and Aver, do we learn about the study of Torah by the generations preceding Mattan Torah.

The Tzemach Tzedek explains that the names ‘Shem,’ and ‘Aver,’ correspond to the written and oral Torah respectively. The word ‘Shem’ means name, and refers to the written Torah, as the Talmud states: “the entire Torah is names of the Holy One, blessed be He.” The word ‘Aver’ means to pass, and refers to the oral Torah which is passed from generation to generation. It is thus understood that since the patriarchs studied Torah, the children of Israel must have also studied Torah prior to Mattan Torah. As already mentioned, Mattan Torah affected a major change in the world; it was an event that dramatically changed the world. At Mattan Torah all the various levels and differences in the body of the Jewish people became clearly defined. Mattan Torah placed the boundaries between the Jewish people into a clear, concise, and set pattern. These differences are enumerated in the verses in Nitzavim (29:9-10) which states: “you are standing this day all of you before the L‑rd your G‑d: your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, (even) all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the stranger that is in the midst of your camp, from the hewer of wood unto the drawer of your water.

Mattan Torah also defined the division between men, women, and children which has been extant ever since. The verse regarding Hakhel which occurred prior to Mattan Torah does not enumerate who would be assembled at Hakhel. The verse only says “assemble the people.” However, regarding the Hakhel which occurred after Mattan Torah, the verse states: “assemble the men, women, and children.” This was because at that time there existed set divisions within the Jewish camp.

3. Each of these divisions among the Jewish people has its individual advantage. This is understood from Rashi’s commentary which expounds upon the verse “Hakhel the men, women, and children.” Rashi cites the opinion of Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah who said, “the men come to Hakhel to learn, the women come to listen, and the reason the children come to Hakhel is to give reward to those that bring them.” Hence, the men have the advantage of “learning.” The women have the advantage of “listening,” and the children have the advantage that they “cause others to receive reward for bringing them to Hakhel.” This last advantage embodies the concept of “and the hearts of the parents will return through the children.”

The advantage that children possess may be understood as follows: There are two methods of prayer to G‑d. One is to have high, lofty thoughts during prayer. The other is to pray with the simple intentions of a child. The essential part of a Mitzvah is its actual performance; the intentions during the performance of a Mitzvah are of secondary importance. Prayer is the “service of the heart,” and one fulfills his obligation of prayer when he prays with “the intentions of a child.”

In the actual fulfillment of a Mitzvah all Jews are equal. A person may be a great scholar who understands the secrets and allusions, the reasons and intentions, of the Mitzvos. (Such was the case with King Shlomo who understood-all the Mitzvos excluding the Mitzvah of the “Red Heifer), nevertheless, the essential point of each Mitzvah, for him as well as another Jew, is to actually do the Mitzvah.

In this aspect — fulfillment — the greatest scholar, and the simplest Jew, are equal. The scholar who understands the reasons for a Mitzvah must fulfill the Mitzvah, not because he understands it, but because Hashem “has sanctified us with His commandments.” To this the Alter Rebbe adds that “even if we were commanded to chop wood,” we would also do it. This concept is explained by the Previous Rebbe in numerous places. He brings out the fact that even those Mitzvos which can be understood must be performed exactly like ‘Chukkim,’ (decrees) — those Mitzvos whose reasons we cannot understand. The only reason we do Mitzvos is that Hashem has so commanded us. Although one may understand the reason for a Mitzvah, he fulfills it because G‑d commanded us to do it, and not because he understands the Mitzvah. A child does not understand the rationale of a Mitzvah; he fulfills the Mitzvos only because Hashem commanded us to do them. Likewise, in regard to prayer, one who prays “with the intention of a child” is compared to one who fulfills Mitzvos with the concept of Chukkim. Thus, children and Chukkim are related.

The concept of Chukkim, which is the advantage of children, was achieved during the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. During Mattan Torah the concept of “we will do before we will listen” was achieved. This is the idea of fulfilling a Mitzvah because “Hashem has sanctified us with His commandments.” This is the concept of “Na’aseh” — we will do. We do not fulfill the commandments because we understand them. That is the concept of “Nishmah” — to listen and understand.

The concept of Nishmah existed before Mattan Torah. In fact, the Nishmah was on a very high level, as is explained in numerous places: a high standard of understanding and comprehension of Torah existed prior to the giving of the Torah.

At Mattan Torah we achieved the level of “we will do,” before “we will listen.” Regardless of how high a level of Nishmah we reach, there must be the attitude of Na’aseh before Nishmah. This is the major achievement of Mattan Torah. Through Mattan Torah there came into existence a totally new mode of service. Since Mattan Torah we fulfill all of Torah and Mitzvos only because G‑d has told us to do so. This is the level of service which the concept of Chukkim expresses. In his explanation of the Mishnah (Chulin Ch. 7) the Rambam states that “after Mattan Torah we do not fulfill the Mitzvah of circumcision because Avraham circumcised himself and the male members of his household; rather, we fulfill the Mitzvah of circumcision because G‑d has told us through Moshe that we should perform circumcision as Avraham Avinu did circumcision.” From this we understand that when Avraham Avinu comes to a “Bris,” he knows that we are not fulfilling this Mitzvah because of him. Rather, we do so because G‑d told us at Mattan Torah, to do the Mitzvah of circumcision.

From the above we can derive the additional lesson to be learned from Simchas Torah as it occurs in the year of Hakhel. At the celebration of Simchas Torah in a year of Hakhel the special advantage of a child’s relationship to Torah, as well as the connection between Chukkim and Torah, can be easily perceived. It should also be understood that this lesson is relevant throughout the year.

4. As mentioned numerous times the true and complete concept of Hakhel will be realized through the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. The preparation for his coming consists of our deeds and service in the time of Golus. Our deeds and service in Golus are not only a preparation for the Hakhel of Moshiach. Actually, through our present service we achieve the idea of Hakhel in the spiritual sense. A Bais Hamikdosh exists within the heart of every Jew; and our present service will cause our bodies and our individual portion in the world to become a “place in which the L‑rd your G‑d shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.”

The Baal Shem Tov expounds upon the verse “and it shall be when you come to the land... you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place which the L‑rd your G‑d shall choose, to cause His name to dwell there” (Devorim 26:1-2). The Besht (Keser Shem Tov) states that the lesson to be procured from this verse is that a Jew should have self-sacrifice in publicizing G‑dliness in the world. This self-sacrifice consists of a blessing and a verse in Tehillim. Thus it is understood that this lesson is relevant to every Jew, as the words of Tehillim are pertinent to every Jew. On Simchas Torah we dance with the Torah wrapped up in its’ mantle to show that every Jew is connected with the Torah. The saying of Tehillim is also pertinent to every Jew, as we observe from Hosha’anah Rabbah night, when everyone said Tehillim, and from Shabbos Mevorchim, when everyone said Tehillim, according to the custom instituted by the Previous Rebbe.

All of the above is “gathered in” on Shemini Atzeres, and afterwards it is brought into “Isru Chag,” as the verse says: “bind the Festival offering with cords until [you bring it to] the horns of the altar” (Tehillim lla:27). The meaning of the verse is that all of the Divine revelations and all of resulting inspiration which were received from the Yomim Tovim should be binded unto each of the days of the year. Through this we prepare the vessels in which to receive the great and manifold blessings of the Hakhel of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. That Hakhel will encompass all Jews — “the men, women, and children, and the convert which is in your gates” (through conversion according to Halachah), and it will then be that “no man will covet your land.” I.E., at that time there won’t be any foolishness of wanting to give away pieces of Eretz Yisroel, for at that time the gentiles won’t even want to take it.