From a talk given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztz”l on Shabbos Parshas Bereishis, 24th Day of Tishrei, 5741 (1980)

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.1

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 Hashem, and observe to do all the words of this law; and that their children, who have not known, may hear, and learn to fear Hashem 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. 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. Each patriarch received Torah knowledge from the patriarch(s) that preceded him, and then added to it.2 This is especially evident regarding our forefather Ya’akov, who sat in the tents of Shem and Aver.

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 – heads, tribes, elders, offices, men, little ones, wives, strangers, etc.

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. Each of these divisions among the Jewish people has its individual advantage. 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.” 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. 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. Likewise, in regard to prayer, one who prays “with the intention of a child” is compared to one who fulfills Mitzvos simply because Hashem commanded them.

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. 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.

We see this on Simchas Torah, when we rejoice with the Torah closed and dressed in its garments. We celebrate the joy of mitzvos that applies equally to all Jews, rather than the inner understanding, which may be only attainable to a select few.

1. Although Hakhel occurs once every seven years, it is nonetheless, an ascent onto a higher level of holiness. The holiness and inspiration which the current Hakhel provides are in addition to the influences of the previous Hakhel which are felt “all the days which you live upon the land.”
2. This is because the commandment to learn Torah obligates us to explore and study the very depths of Torah. In Hilchos Talmud Torah the Alter Rebbe states the Halachic decision that “if one has the capability to produce new insights in his study of Torah, and he does not produce these original explanations in his study, than he has not fulfilled his obligation in the study of Torah.”

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