Parshat Vayelech: Power of Communal Gathering

Parshat Vayelech contains the mitzvah of “hakhel” (assembly), when the Jewish people gathered together to hear portions of the Torah read out during Sukkot at the end of the shmita year. This mitzvah could only be fulfilled when the beit hamikdash stood, yet the commentaries highlight that the essence of hakhel is particularly relevant today.

The Torah emphasizes that all are required to participate in the mitzvah of hakhel: men, women and children. Rashi comments that men came to learn, women (who were then uneducated) to hear and young children to give “s’char” (reward) to their parents who brought them. No matter one’s level of education, the Torah reading would touch the hearts of each person in some way. Rambam explains that whether a person was exceptionally learned or couldn’t understand the words, everyone stood and listened together recalling the giving of Torah at Sinai. Hakhel was inclusive of all, no matter one’s level of understanding, knowledge and commitment. 

The Kli Yakar’s interpretation of hakhel adds a timely connection to Yom Kippur: “The whole essence of hakhel is about repentance.” While the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are about individual repentance, hakhel – the gathering of all – represents a rare opportunity and inspiration for communal teshuva. 

Rav Soloveitchik writes that actually there are elements of both individual and communal teshuva on Yom Kippur in the vidui (confession). The individual confession is shorter and a precursor to the more powerful and longer communal confession. Both are necessary but the tefila of “Knesset Yisrael” (gathering of Israel) binds us – with our own community, with Jews throughout history and with the whole of Israel. 

May we be blessed to feel the communal strength of “hakhel” and “Knesset Yisrael” this year. May we find ways to deepen our bonds and positive connection with the whole Jewish people. Shabbat Shalom and gmar chatima tova – Karen Miller Jackson

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