Thursday, September 2, 2010

Importance of Hakhail

This week's Parsha, Netzavim-Vayeilech, contains the commandment of HaKhail (Gathering to hear the Torah read). The description of this commandment is very interesting. The verse says (Devarim 31:12-13):

יב. הַקְהֵל אֶת הָעָם הָאֲנָשִׁים וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַטַּף וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ וּלְמַעַן יִלְמְדוּ וְיָרְאוּ אֶת יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְשָׁמְרוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת:
12. Assemble the people: the men, the women, and the children, and your stranger in your cities, in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and fear the Lord, your God, and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah.

יג. וּבְנֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּ יִשְׁמְעוּ וְלָמְדוּ לְיִרְאָה אֶת יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם כָּל הַיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם חַיִּים עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם 
 עֹבְרִים אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ
13. And their children, who did not know, will hear and learn to fear the Lord, your God, all the days that you live on the land, to which you are crossing the Jordan, to possess.

Rashi quotes here the Gemora in Chagiga 3a that says the men came to learn, the women came to hear and the children came in order to give reward to those who brought them. This understanding does not make much sense to me. Firstly, the men, women, children and the stranger among them (the convert) are all equally considered in the idea of learning, listening and fearing G-D. In fact, the Ramban even says this regarding the women and men being equal in this commandment (ibid):

יב - יג): למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו -
האנשים והנשים, כי גם הן שומעות ולומדות ליראה את ה'. 
In order that they will hear and in order that they will learn:
The men and the women, because they also hear and learn to fear G-D.

This makes a lot of sense because fearing G-D is not a time bound commandment and it is not limited to men. Women need to fear G-D just as much as men do. It is strange that the Gemara separates men and women in this regard. However, I think the Gemara (and Rashi) is telling us something about how one needs to learn about this commandment. The men need to learn, as the Gemara says, about this commandment, but the women only need to listen, as the Gemara says, to this commandment. Why the difference? Men have an obligation to not just know the law, but also to constantly be learning it in depth and analyzing it over and over. Women, on the other hand, are just supposed to know all the laws, but they have no obligation to constantly review it and learn it in depth. I think that this is probably what the Gemara (and Rashi) is trying to take away from this verse, the different roles that men and women have when it comes to learning the commandments.

However, the question arises, why does the second verse quoted, verse 13, restate that the children need to hear the reading of the Torah, weren't they already included in the first verse?

The difference is clear. The first verse is referring to everyone who was alive at the time of Moshe's death. All of these people already knew G-D, but they needed a yearly reminder because the open miracles were stopping and they were moving into the land. This is why verse 13 says, "וּבְנֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּ" (their children that do not know). What do they not know? They did not know G-D! They were not present at the time of G-D revealing Himself to the Jewish people. However, they must come to fear Him from learning and listening to the Torah as well. 

There is another indication that verse 12 speaks of the time of Moshe and verse 13 speaks of future generations. In verse 12 it says, "לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ וּלְמַעַן יִלְמְדוּ וְיָרְאוּ אֶת יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם" (In order that they hear and in order that they learn and they will fear G-D), but in verse 13 it says, "יִשְׁמְעוּ וְלָמְדוּ לְיִרְאָה אֶת יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם" (They will hear and they will learn TO fear G-D). The first verse is telling us that the commandment of Hakhail serves to cause the people to want to listen to the words of the Torah and to learn the words of the Torah and then that will help them fear G-D. However, for future generations Hakhail ITSELF is when the Jewish people hear the words of the Torah and are moved to learn to fear G-D. 

The Jewish people, when entering the land for the very first time, already learned to fear G-D. They saw Him at Mt. Sinai! However, they needed a once yearly commandment to remind them of the importance of G-D and His greatness. Living in the land can take a toll on a person and their minds would not be able to focus on G-D as well as they were able to in the dessert. The Jews of the future will need to learn to fear G-D in a completely different way. Future generations will only be able to read about G-D and will not be able to "see" Him like the Jews who lived in the dessert. This is why, in verse 13, it says that the children do not know, because they were not at Mt. Sinai. However, they must still come to fear G-D. Hakhail serves as the reminder that every single Jew must search for G-D and truly come to "Know" Him.    

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