My son Yehoshua and his family are currently living in Jerusalem. He arrived mid-summer and when he would drive outside of Jerusalem proper he could not help but notice that the fields were fallow. There was no growth, no vegetation, and no action in the fields, because the Jewish farmers were observing the Torah’s Mitzvah of Shemitta, which states that in the Land of Israel there is to be no planting and harvesting during the seventh – sabbatical year.
Yehoshua told me that the day after Rosh Hahshana, when Shemitta restrictions were over, he witnessed how the fields became alive, with sand and dust cast in the air and the hum of the tractors filled the air. The eighth year had begun!
In Vayailech, last week’s Parsha, the Torah states a law specifically for the Eighth year. Right after the conclusion of Shemitta, there is a special event during the Holiday of Succos called Hakel. On the second day of the holiday, there is an obligation for every adult male and female along with their children to gather in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and listen to the King of Israel read certain select portions of the Book of Devorim / Deuteronomy from a Torah scroll, from a specially made Bima.
This experience of gathering all of Israel together with the King reading the Torah made an indelible impression on every person present, infusing them with an intense connection to the Almighty that lasted for seven years, until the conclusion of the next Shemitta cycle.
I recently watched a video of farmers from Kibbutz Shalavim, singing and dancing in a circle around Dr. Moshe Zaks, a 94-year-old agronomist and farmer, who experienced his 14th Shemitta since he was born!
Getting back to Hakel. There are a number of logistical things that the ‘Organizer’ of this massive event had to take care of. Think of it, if every person, adult and child, are in Jerusalem during this event, who is left to watch over the borders which would apparently be left unsecure? Who will be watching over everyone’s personal property or possessions from thieves? How did millions of people fit into the Temple courtyard? How did everyone hear the King read from the Torah? After all, there weren’t always sophisticated sound systems.
The answer to the first two questions is, when the ‘Organizer’ of this event is G-d Himself and He has given a guarantee in the Torah that He will guard the borders and that no personal property will be lost, that is the best protection one can have, and it was proven each time Hakel was held!
But what about the logistics of everyone fitting in the limited space of the Temple, or being able to hear the king’s voice? Mind you, noisy children and infants were included in this command.
The Mishna tells us that the Temple area did not have the limitations of space. When entering into G-d’s Home on earth it didn’t work with the laws of physics. Rather it worked in the miraculous realm. The space expanded and everyone fit in. This didn’t work out on paper and pen or for that matter through any computer program. It just worked; it was an open miracle at Hakel and this happened at other times as well.
During King Shlomo’s son Rechavam’s reign as King, there was contention between him and a wicked idolater by the name of Yeravam. Yeravam set up idols on the roads leading to Jerusalem and forced people to bow to them. This prevented religious people from traveling to Jerusalem to appear before G-d at the Temple for the Holidays, and for the massive gathering of Hakel in particular.
Why was Yeravam so worked up about preventing people from getting to Hakel? After all, it’s a once in seven-year observance. The answer offered is that Yeravam in his extreme wickedness realized how impactful the Mitzvah of Hakel was on the people and he did all that was in his power to prevent people from that experience. Yeravam wished that these people become vulnerable to the trap of idol worship which at that time people had a passion for idol worship similar to the greatest sinful passions that exist today.
The Talmud asks, we can understand why adults and children were commanded to come, but why is there a command that the infants come as well? The Talmud explains that the reason the Torah included the infants was to give special rewards to those who bring them.
Commentators explain, that if the Torah would not emphasize that the children and infants come, it could have been looked at as any other chore that a parent does for their child, for after all they could not be left alone. The Torah specifies the Mitzvah of the children and infants to come so that the ones who bring them realize that they are actually fulfilling a Mitzvah by bringing their child and infant and it is a holy act.
The holy environment that the children and infant absorb from this spiritual experience left an indelible impression on them.
The Talmud speaks of the impact that any spiritual environment has on people and infants as well.
A friend of mine whose wife is battling dementia and her mind is her own world, tells me that when they sit down for Shabbos dinner and the Kiddush is recited, her face lights up and she responds Amain to the Brocha! She somehow responds to the holy environment of Shabbos!
We are heading into the beautiful Holiday of Succos, when we leave our comfortable homes and eat and dwell in a temporary Succah/hut. The holiness of the Succah is comparable is to a Synagogue and in certain ways even more so. Our bodies are totally surrounded and enveloped by the Mitzvah of Succah which totally imbues us with Spiritual energy!