“Take this book of Teaching and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, and let it remain there as a witness against you.” (Deuteronomy 31:26)
Parashat Vayelech is the beginning of the end. Moses announces to the Israelites he will not accompany them into Canaan; Joshua will lead them instead. To ensure continuity of tradition, Moses writes down the teachings of the Torah, leaves it in care of the priests and elders, and instructs them: every seven years, “Hakhel, Gather the people– men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities-that they may hear and so learn to revere the Lord your God and to observe faithfully every word of the teaching.” (Deut. 31:12) By listing all the constituent members of the community, the Torah makes a democratic statement: learning is the responsibility of every Jew and not only some privileged class. This interpretation identifies Jewish learning as a critical ingredient to Jewish survival.
Rabbi Abraham Twerski (1930-; American chassidic rabbi and psychiatrist specializing in substance abuse) notices this septennial hakhel event coincides with the conclusion of the shmitah, or sabbatical year. Twerski reads into this another ingredient critical to Jewish survival: role modeling. Observing the shmitah laws requires an ongoing act of faith: you really have to believe God will provide in order to leave your land fallow for an entire year.
A gathering of the entire people to hear the Torah certainly is impressive, but the shmitah year’s daily demonstration of trust in God carries much more pedagogical weight for children. That’s why the hakhel ritual occurs at the end of the shmitah year: the Torah’s words come as an affirmation of the parents’ actions and the children will recognize the congruence between them. If hakhel is the talk, shmitah is the walk.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom
G’mar Chatima Tova/A good signing (in the Book of Life)