Former Shaliach, Kansas City (2002-03)
Once every seven years we have a very special Mitzvah- Hakhel. The Torah commands that at the end of the Shmita Year, on Succot when you all gather together in Yerushalayim, men, women and children should all come and listen to the words of the Torah.
The question arises – if the children aren’t able to learn or understand why should they be there? The Gemara says: “to give a reward to the people who brought them”. Also – why is this commandment given after a year of Shmita- a year where the land rests and isn’t worked? A year when we get to eat from the holiness of the land and thank Hashem for the beautiful fruits he gives us? What is the connection to Hakhel?
There are many analogies made between trees and people, and fruit and children. When a tree is healthy, and is rooted in the right place, with the right light and water, then the fruits that come from the tree will also be beautiful and plentiful.
Rabbi Yehuda Halvey in Sefer Hakuzari says that the right land for the Jewish people is the land of Israel, and the ‘rain’ that we need to grow is the Torah and Mitzvot. When we are deeply rooted in our land we have the opportunity to produce the best fruit. If so, how can we possibly take a break from working the land for a whole year? How will the land (and we) continue to bear good fruit even without the important work of watering, planting, harvesting etc?
The Holiday of Succot, more than any other Holiday, represents the unity of Am Yisrael. We take the four species – Lulav, Etrog, Hadas and Arava which represent the four different types of Jews we can find in the world. The Arava represent the simplest of all Jews – the willow has no smell and no taste, representing those without Torah learning or good deeds. But without the Arava in our hands we can’t fulfill the commandment of the four species.
The message is clear – the Jewish nation needs all parts of it to survive. Every single Jew has his unique role in the world. Only when we are all together do we truly reach our full potential. During the year of Shmita we rested from working the land. We learnt that our success is not truly in our hands. It’s not only about the way I know how to do things or how hard I work. We realize that each part of the nation completes their unique role in the world only when we are all working together. Only by resting the land, by stopping our usual rhythm and slowing our pace, can we possibly listen to others and realize the beauty of someone else.
The Torah says that you get a reward for bringing the children to Hakhel – Also the children need to recognize and give thanks to those who brought them to where we are.
There is a very important and fundamental connection between the Jews living in Israel and the Jews living in Chutz Laaretz. The connection is exemplified in the Torah MiTzion Kollels spread out through the world. 13 years ago I had the most amazing experience being part of the Kansas City Community Kollel. When I left Israel, I was sure I was going to teach the Jews living in the Diaspora. Throughout the year, in addition to teaching, I was able to receive so much from this amazing community! Lessons in hospitality, life experiences and how to truly care for the land of Israel and the people of Israel. Even if physically the distance was far, the connection through the open hearts was always close.
This past summer, I went back to Kansas City. The kids I learned with are now leaders in the same community. As we sat together at a baseball game, cheering for the Royals – who wear the colors Blue and White – I thought of the connection between the field (Eretz Yisrael), the players (Jews in Israel) and the fans supporting the local team. Just as the fans need a team to support, so too the team can’t exist without the support of the fans who wear the team colors with pride.
It is said that in the future all of Israel will sit together in one Succah – Ultimately, all parts of Am Yisrael are connected and will always be. We can’t exist without the other.
After we have been cleansed from all hatred and sin on Yom Kippur we can truly be together in Yerushalayim.
May this be the year when we see the true rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash.