Hakhel: Bracing for Change

….Assemble the people: The men , the women and the children, and your strangers in your cities, in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and fear G-od, your G-od and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah…. (Devarim 31:12)



Hakhel is observed every seven years, in the year following Shemitah. Why then did Moshe not teach it in tandem with the laws of Shemitah, much earlier in the Torah? Why did Moshe instruct Bnei Yisrael about Hakhel only in his final directives to Yehoshua before passing away?

The placement and timing of this command indicate that the necessity of Hakhel was due to the change that Bnei Yisrael were about to experience. The future observance of Hakhel was announced specifically as they prepared to enter the Land of Israel, for its observance was directly related to entering the Land of Israel, even more so than other Mitzvos which are technically only observed in the Land of Israel.

The Rambam (Chagigah 3:6) describes the purpose of Hakhel:

“To concentrate their attention and direct their hearing, listening with reverence and awe, rejoicing while trembling as on the day the Torah was given at Sinai. …Scripture established it solely to strengthen the true faith. He should see himself as if he was just now commanded regarding the Torah and heard it from the Almighty.”

This periodic re-experiencing of the Giving of the Torah was not necessary when Bnei Yisrael were living in the very circumstances in which the Torah was given – the desert, and led by the very leader who delivered the Torah to them – Moshe. Moshe taught the mitzvah of Hakhel only as he prepared Bnei Yisrael for the change of leadership and the drastic change of lifestyle and surroundings which they would experience upon entering the Land of Israel. Even in circumstances that did not resemble those of the original revelation, the observance of Hakhel would enable Bnei Yisrael to remember and be inspired by the awesome experience of Matan Torah.

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