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Parsha Vayelech

09/13/2018 08:36:16 PM

Sep13

The second to last mitzvah in the Torah is “Hakhel,” the septennial mitzvah to gather all the Jews together for a public Torah reading on Chol Hamoed Succos in the Temple.  Besides the basic point of public Torah study, Hakhel, as its name suggests, stresses the importance of group gathering that includes not only men, but women and even small children as well.  In the famous Talmudic discussion in Chagiga 3a, the Gemara questions what purpose exists in bringing small children to the Hakhel gathering, when they are too young to understand the content of the Torah readings.  In the words of the Gemara, the “children are present to provide reward to those who brought them there,” ostensibly meaning that their presence had no value for the children themselves, and merely served as a means to provide their parents with reward for listening to God’s instructions of bringing the children along.  This is a difficult concept, because it is unthinkable that God would add a purposeless instruction to the mitzvah of Hakhel just to give reward for its fulfillment.  While much Torah thought has been said about this particular Gemara, the great Malbim of the 19th Century has a different and quite novel perspective for the rationale of bringing children to Hakhel, and his unique perspective has become poplar and widespread in recent times in the discussions of Jewish Education.  The Malbim encourages the reader to reflect on the simple text of the Chumah, which reads: “And the children, who do not understand, will hear and learn to fear God,” and he writes that the purpose of including children in Hakhel was to provide them with experiential learning can be more powerful a tool that intellectual learning.  While the adults were focused on the Torah discussion and the intellectual parts of their brains were consumed with the task of understanding the Torah, the children’s visceral brains were working furiously to soak in the moment and properly absorb the magnitude of the crowd and glory paid to God and the idea of Torah study.  Precisely because the “children do not understand,” in the Torah’s words, is very reason why they should experience Hakhel, because it will offer an emotional-cognation method of learning that will help them “hear and fear God.”  As in many ironic instances, disadvantages can become advantages, and while young children do not yet have the tools to comprehend the Torah of Hakhel, this becomes an advantage for their purity and innocence to fully absorb the experience. 

Judaism generally promotes the power of children, and acutely encourages the usage of children in areas that pertain to purity and beginning new projects.  For example, God chose Betzalel as the architect for the Mishkan, and not Moshe or Aron, as Betzalel’s youth provided him with the necessary purity and devotion for such a formidable task.  Similarly, Shlomo Hamelech is inaugurated at the young age of 12 and begins to build the Temple shortly after.  Besides the importance of purity establishing the proper foundations for projects, youth can also provide greater long-term vision and the will to persevere through the endless setbacks and challenges along the way.  The faces of the Cherubim were those of young children, again symbolizing the connection between purity, holiness, and a child’s innocence.  The Para Aduma, the cow that represents the epitome of purity, involved the usage of children, as the Gemara teaches that young children were raised in the optimal “climates” of purity and that they were the ones who drew the necessary waters for the Para Aduma ritual.  Chazal speak of the great power of the Tefillos of young children, the unbiased and straightforward approach of children that is so moving to God.  It seems that the idea of the Torah is while children lack experience and wisdom, they more than make up for these disadvantages with their youth and purity, and that purity is the necessary tool to fully capturing a moment and laying foundations for the future.    

Wed, August 21 2019 20 Av 5779