Rabbi’s Corner

In special year, mitzvah 612 fosters faith, unity

Rabbi Yossie Shemtov
Rabbi Yossie Shemtov

The Jewish year of 5776 has just begun and we are certain that it will be a wonderful year. In the words of the Kohen Gadol (high priest) during the Yom Kippur service, may it be a year of light, of blessing, of rejoicing, of happiness, of glory and a year of good assembly.

And this is where you come in, because your help is sought to make it “a year of good assembly.”

This year is called a “Hakhel year,” a year of Jewish gathering. When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, as the nation was about to return to working their fields at the conclusion of a shmita (sabbatical) year, a massive and splendid gathering was held during the holiday of Sukkot.

Men, women and children (even infants) were instructed to gather in the Temple courtyard, where the king or the leader of the nation would climb up on a specially constructed wooden stage. Golden bugles would welcome the participants and the king would recite blessings and read aloud from a Torah scroll. H

akhel, mitzvah number 612, which literally means “assemble,” was the only event that required the attendance of every Jew, reminiscent of the historic moment when our nation stood at Mount Sinai, Chabad.org notes. Every member of our nation was present when G-d lovingly gave us the Torah. Interestingly, when the medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides codified the Jewish laws for his authoritative Mishneh Torah series, he placed the rare mitzvah of Hakhel in between the more common mitzvot of placing a mezuzah on the doorpost and reciting grace after meals (birkat hamazon).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, learned from this that Hakhel is to be considered as a mitzvah that can be practiced on a daily basis during this special year and it can be done by everyone.

The gathering was “In order that they should listen and should learn, and should fear G-d, your G-d, and observe to do all the words of the Torah” (Deuteronomy 31:12) and that need is always relevant, even after the Temple was destroyed.

“It is the duty of everyone who is a ‘king,’ a leader, in his circle,” the Rebbe wrote in a 1966 letter, whether it is in a congregation, a classroom or in the family, “to raise the voice of the Torah and Mitzvot, powerfully and earnestly, so that it produce a profound impression and an abiding influence in the audience.”

This is something each of us can be doing this coming year, helping us all to grow in our faith, expand in our learning of Torah, intensify our practice of mitzvot, bring unity to our people and secure the future of our nation.

So how do you become a Hakhel leader?

Simple: Present a Torah thought at every get-together of Jews this coming year. Call it a dvar Torah, a drash, vertel, pshetil or Torah nugget. It can be short or long (preferably short, yet meaningful). You can do it with the family before the nightly Shema, at the Shabbat table, backyard barbecue, birthday party or a club meeting.

Let us unite in delight and hold our heads high as one community around what has sustained us as one people throughout ages of trials and tribulations: G-d and his Torah. Let us make it a Hakhel year.