This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Vayelech, tells the story of Moses and his responsibilities during his final days on earth. The Parsha explains how despite his elderly age, Moses summoned all of his remaining energy to inform the Jewish people that he would no longer be able to lead them across the Jordan River, into the promised land. As a result, Moses passed his leadership reigns onto Joshua, as this was G-d’s intention. Before Moses departed, he received a final commandment from G-d: to transcribe “this song,” referring to the Torah. After accepting this hefty task, Moses wrote the Torah and left it in the safekeeping of priests. Moses then delivered the commandment of Hakhel. This specific commandment requires that every seven years during Sukkot, all the people of Israel must gather at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem where the king will publicly read the Torah.
As the Israelites prepared to leave for the holy gathering, G-d appeared and warned the people that they will one day stray away from Jewish beliefs, causing them to worship other G-ds. G-d emphasizes that as a result of their actions, the people of Israel will face a period of time only to be defined by evil and trouble. The Torah, now officially completed, was then placed in the Ark with the tablets, and Moses recounted “the song” of the Torah and left the Israelites to enter the promised land in his absence.
This Torah portion is a significant moment in Jewish history as it recounts the moment the Torah, the one we know and use today, first came into existence. It is also noteworthy that G-d referred to the Torah as “a song.” This was the first instance when all the contents of the script were read and described in this light. The musical dimension of this specific Parsha can be seen as an explanation as to why Jews today chant and trope while they pray. It is also believed that if one reads the words you speak directly to the mind, but while singing them it speaks to the heart. Perhaps Moses understood the need for the Jewish people to forge a deeper, emotional connection to the Torah, not just an intellectual one. Why? Because Moses foresaw that eventually the Jewish people would be tempted to sin and stray from G-d. Perchance, this is the impetus for Hakhel as well. A public gathering focused on reading words of the Torah would serve to remind the Jewish people of the centrality of Torah to our faith and peoplehood.
In addition to binding the Israelites to the Torah, Hakhel is also the origin of what we are reading now, the Dvar Torah. The public and collective reading of the Torah that comes along with Hakhel suggests revision and discussion. When people consider the content of the Torah, they find ways to apply it to their lives and learn from its lessons and teaching. Without this commandment encouraging us to analyze the text, it is very likely that we would not have Divrei Torah or weekly talks reviewing and analyzing the Torah portions. Perhaps, the greatest benefit of both the Hakhel ceremony and its modern-day substitute, weekly Torah conversations, is that it enables the transmission of Torah lessons and Jewish values from one generation to the next. It might, in fact, be the very key to the continued existence of the Jewish people and Jewish religion.
KIO Regional Shlichim, Elise Varhan and Max Perry.
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All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
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