HAKHEIL: A RE-ENACTMENT
The Rambam explains that the mitzva of Hakheil is to gather the
nation. The Rambam understands that in addition to the mitzva of
coming to the Beis Hamikdash, there was also an obligation on
every individual to gather and ensure that everyone participated
in the Hakheil ceremony (See main text above - 3rd last
This is a very unusual mitzva indeed. No other mitzva includes a clause to ensure that our fellow Jews fulfil their obligation as well. Furthermore, there is greater emphasis placed on gathering everyone else than on our own mitzva to come and hear the Torah reading.
We are actually held accountable for the mitzva observances of our brethren. "Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh" - "All Jews are guarantors for each other". There are situations where one who refuses to fulfil a mitzva, even after being encouraged and prodded, can be compelled to do so by physical force to ensure that the mitzva is performed. There is another example where arievus comes into play. If a baby boy does not have a father who will circumcise him, then all Jews are commanded to perform the mila - circumcision. The Chasam Sofer writes that this is every Jew's obligation and it is not limited to the Beis Din. The Beis Din might be the body that actually enforces the fulfilment of mitzvos under these circumstances, for it has the means to do so. However, they are acting as shlichim (agents) on our behalf (Teshuvos Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat 177). Why then, concerning Hakheil was it necessary for the Torah to command us explicitly to ensure that our fellow Jews arrive for the Torah reading? Why doesn't our areivus suffice to make sure our brothers come for Hakheil?
The Rambam writes that everyone (even those who do not understand lashon kodesh) must prepare themselves to concentrate and to listen (to the Torah reading) in awe and fear, and rejoice with trembling like the day the Torah was given at Har Sinai. Even the great scholars who knew the entire Torah were obligated to listen with intense concentration so that it should be perceived as if we are being commanded now and that we are hearing the Torah directly from Hashem for the king is Hashem's shaliach (agent) who makes the word of G-d heard (chagiga 3:5-6).
Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner zt'l comments that the Rambam clearly understands the Hakheil ceremony to be a reenactment of Kabbalas HaTorah at Har Sinai. We therefore try to duplicate the awe and fear that was present then. This explains why when the Rambam lists the sequence of the Torah reading, he writes "... and he reads in order from 'Aseir t'aseir' to the end of the Brachos U'klalos, until 'beside the bris, covenant, that was made with them at Chorev' (Devarim 14:22 - 28:69) and he stops". Why does the Rambam add the words "and he stops"? It is obvious that when the king finishes the assigned reading he will stop. However the Rambam is explaining that the Torah reading did not just end at this point by chance. It concludes intentionally here to emphasize the last point that recalls the covenant made at Kabbalas HaTorah. In this way, the reading also assists in recreating the atmosphere of Maamad Har Sinai and draws out the connection between Hakheil and Kabbalas HaTorah (Pachad Yitzchak,Igaros, no. 85).
Perhaps the most glorious moment in our nation's history took place right before Mattan Torah, the giving of the Torah. The Jewish people declared to Moshe: "Naaseh v'nishma" - "We will do and we will hear" (Shemos 24:8). With this declaration we were elevated to the status of melachim, angels. Hashem's response to this declaration was "Mi gila l'vanai raz zeh shemalachei hashareis mishtamshin bo? - Who revealed to my children this secret which the ministering angels use?" As it is written in regard to the melachim "Bless Hashem, His angels: the strong warriors who do His bidding, to hear voice of His word" (Tehillim 103:20). They are prepared to perform Hashem's will even before hearing what He commands. Bnei Yisrael also accepted Hashem's mitzvos without questioning if it is too difficult for them (Shabbos 88a.).
Naaseh V'nishma also reveals another element of the greatness in Bnei Yisrael. The Midrash Tanchuma states "R' Abba bar R' Kahana said: 'When Bnei Yisrael stood by Har Sinai and said 'All that Hashem speaks we will do and we will hear' Hakadosh Baruch Hu the Holy One Blessed be He, immediately cherished them and He sent two angels to each of them. One angel girded him with a sword and the other one placed a crown on his head' " (Tetzaveh 11). The crowns testified to their lofty status, however what did the swords represent?
The Beis HaLevi provides us with an explanation. He asks: "Why did each individual respond in the plural, "Na'aseh v'nishma", we will do and we will listen? More correctly, each person should have said "E'eseh v'eshma", I will do and I will listen. How could they speak for everyone else? The Beis Halevi answers that everyone made two kabbalos, commitments. One kabbala was to personally observe the Torah. The second commitment was responsibility over his friend, to ensure that he would also keep the Torah faithfully. This is stated in the Midrash: "Rebbi said that when the Jewish people stood before Har Sinai together and accepted the sovereignty of Hashem with joy and with one heart, they also became guarantors for each other (Tanchuma, Yisro 13). Therefore they responded in the plural. Not only will I fulfil my obligations, I will see to it that my neighbour does too. "Na'aseh" - we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our neighbour observes the mitzvos. This is what the sword represented, it takes strength to stand up and concern ourselves with our fellow Jews. It is very easy to be complacent and satisfied solely with our own observance (Beis Halevi, Mishpatim).
Since Hakheil as the Rambam explains, is a re-enactment of Kabbalas HaTorah, and we reaffirm our commitment to its precepts, it is also important to reiterate that we accept responsibility for the mitzva observance of one other. Therefore much emphasis is placed on the gathering itself.
How did everyone fulfil their responsibility and ensure that others also came? If we know that a special gathering will take place, our desire to participate will be enhanced all the more so if we anticipate a huge attendance. If the entire nation were expected to attend, we would never miss such an event! Each individual had to feel that his attendance was not simply a personal decision, it affected others as well. This is an important lesson for us here too. Often we would like to improve our ways, to strengthen our learning to be more careful with shmiras halashon (guarding our tongue from forbidden speech), or to refrain from talking during davening. We are waiting for someone else to take the initiative. What we have to realise is that just as we are watching what others are doing, others are watching us. If Reuven and Shimon are talking, and Reuven wants to tell Shimon something questionable, he thinks to himself, if there is anything wrong with what I am saying, Shimon is bound to say: "Reuven I think this is lashon hara". At the same time, Shimon listens, and although he is unsure whether to keep listening or interrupt Reuven, he thinks - surely Reuven would not tell me lashon hara. We depend on the behaviour of others. When others accept additional mitzvos upon themselves, we will be inspired to follow their lead. So too if they have a bad habit which we also recognise in ourselves, the poor example which they set, legitimises our own unseemly behaviour to the point where we feel that it cannot really be so bad to conduct one self in this way. We have to take charge, take the first step and be a positive influence for our peers.
Perhaps this was included in our declaration of Na'aseh v'nishma, we will do and we will hear. Whenever I do, I am not only doing for myself, because when I do, I cause others to do, therefore we do. One name for the day we received the Torah is Yom HaKahal, the day of the Assembly (Devarim 18:16). We were all united and felt responsibility for one another. Rabbi Hutner observes that the Rambam calls the day of the Hakheil ceremony, Yom HaKahal (ibid 3:7) stressing its connection to Maamad Har Sinai(Pachad Yitzchak ibid). This is the focus of Hakheil - to re-awaken this sense of unity and mutual responsibility amongst Bnei Yisrael.
The Rambam writes that chatzotzros, trumpets were blown on the day of the Hakheil celebration in order to gather the nation (ibid 3:4). Chatzotzros were a common feature in the Beis Hamikdash. They were blown on Yomim Tovim, festivals and when korbonos, sacrifices, were offered. They were also blown on a taanis, a public fast day (Rambam Hilchos Klei Mikdash 3:5,6; Hilchos Taanis 1:1-4). Rashi explains that chatzotzros were blown as opposed to the shofar of Rosh Hashana, because the fast day was a time to gather the people and all gatherings are with chatzotzros, as it is written "And they will be for you to call the nation" (Bamidbar 10:2; Rashi Rosh Hashana 26b). When Moshe needed to assemble the people in the Midbar, wilderness, the trumpets were sounded. However it is difficult to compare the sounding of trumpets on a fast day and the blowing of chatzotzros in the Midbar. In the Midbar everyone was either in his tent or busy with his daily routine. If Moshe urgently needed to call them together, there had to be a recognised signal. For this, Hashem gave the mitzva of chatzotzros. However on a taanis when the chatzotzros were blown in the Beis Hamikdash, everyone was already gathered. Why then did they blow to assemble the people?
When tragedy or suffering befell the nation, a taanis was declared. The people would gather together and examine their ways to see what sins they had committed so that they may repent (Megilla 30b with Rashi). For suffering comes only as a result of our sins (See Rambam Hilchos Taanis ibid). This is why they blew the chatzotzros - to unite the people. Physically they were already together, but emotionally they needed to feel the bond with their fellow Jews. When there is a sense of unity and responsibility, then each one realises that his behaviour and attitude affects the entire nation. He feels even more compelled to repent and improve his ways.
So too, before the Hakheil ceremony, the chatzotzros sounded to gather the nation both physically and spiritually and remind them of their responsibility one for each other.
Chazal give a mashal to explain our responsibility and our need to feel an integral part of the nation. A group of people was travelling in a boat. One person took an axe and started hacking away under his seat. His fellow passengers asked him "What are you doing?" He responded "What business is it of yours? I am only hacking under my seat!" They replied that when water pours in through "his" hole, the boat will sink and everyone will drown (Vayikra Rabba 4:6). Our actions affect and influence our friends and neighbours and the entire nation. We are all in the same boat! This is reflected in the word Hakheil.
The Midrash relates that before Rebbi gave a lecture in the Beis Haknesses Hagadol, the central synagogue, he would say: "See if the entire Kahal, congregation is present." He learnt this from the giving of the Torah. As it is written, "When Hashem said to me hakheil, assemble for me the nation and I will tell them My words" (Devarim 4:10; Devarim Rabba 7:8). The Midrash understood that everyone's presence was necessary. We must all have a sense of responsibility to the nation. This, we also learn from the word hakheil(See also main text, footnote 59).
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