Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Ha'azinu-Shabbat Shuva 5764/ October 4, 2003
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
Prepared for Internet
Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Hakhel following the Destruction of the Temple
Rabbi Yehuda Zoldan
Midrasha for Women
Shirat Ha'azinu is recited in the presence
of the entire congregation (kahal), as written: "Then Moses recited
the words of this poem to the very end, in the hearing of the whole congregation
of Israel (Deut. 31:30). In a sense this song concludes the process of
re-acceptance of the Torah in the plains of Moab, just before entering the Land,
forty years after the Israelites received the Torah at Sinai-the subject
of Deuteronomy. At the conclusion of this process, we have been commanded in
Va-Yelekh to re-enact the ceremony of receiving the Torah --Kabbalat
ha-Torah - via the Hakhel ceremony, every seven years, at the close of
the Shmitta year during Sukkot (31:10-13).
The giving of the Law at Mount Sinai is called
yom hakahal "the day of the Assembly" (Deut. 9:10; 10:4;
18:16), and our ceremony, which is held every seven years to recreate the event
at Mount Sinai, is called Hakhel. Aside from the linguistic connection,
Maimonides (Hilkhot Hagigah 3:6) makes the substantive link: [The ceremony of
Hakhel is] "to prepare their hearts and to set their ears to listening, to
hear in fear and awe and joy, in trembling, as on the day it was given at
The Bible does not describe the Hakhel ceremony
during Sukkot at the close of the Shmitta year. There are other ceremonies
similar in character, but they were not held at the appointed time. There are
descriptions of gatherings of the people - men, women and children -
when Torah verses were read out to them, and our sages even learned the laws for
the commandment of Hakhel from these ceremonies. Such gatherings were organized
by Joshua (Josh. 8:35; 23-24), Solomon (I Kings 8; II Chron. 6-7), Josiah (II
Kings 23:1-3; II Chron. 34: 29-32), and Ezra and Nehemia (Ezra 10:1; Neh.
Our sages relate to the performance of the Hakhel
ceremony in the First Temple period during the reign of Rehoboam (Jerusalem
Talmud Avoda Zara 1,5; Bavli Sanhedrin 101b) and towards the end of the Second
Temple period when King Agrippa led the ceremony (Mishna Sota 7,8); in another
description of the ceremony, we are told that R. Tarfon participated (Jerusalem
Talmud, Megilla 1,10; JT Horayot 3,2).
With the destruction of the Temple the Hakhel
ceremony was no longer practiced. Without a national framework in the Land,
there was no reason to hold this ceremony. And so it was throughout the long
generations of exile. Our sages did not even establish a "commemoration
of the Hakhel", as they ordained certain commandments to be "in
commemoration of the Temple". Nevertheless, it could be that in the
period immediately after the destruction a ceremony was held that was a sort of
"commemoration of the Hakhel".
Tosefta Sota (Lieberman) 7, 9 provides the
Once R. Johanan b. Beroka and R. Eleazar Hisma
came from Yavneh to Lod and paid their respects to R. Joshua at Peqi'in.
Said R. Joshua to them: What new teaching was there at the College today? They
replied: We are thy disciples and thy waters do we drink. Said he to them: Even
so, it is impossible for a college teaching to pass without some novel teaching.
Whose Sabbath was it? It was the Sabbath of R. Eleazar b. Azaria [they
replied]. And what was the theme of his Haggadic discourse? "Assemble the
people, the men and the women and the little ones (Deut. 31:12). He said to
them: What did the rabbi teach on this? They said to him: Rabbi taught thus:
If the men came to learn, the women came to hear, but wherefore have the little
ones to come? In order to grant reward to those that bring
In Masekhet Soferim (18:8) we find that this
exposition or one similar was delivered "on the day that they placed R.
Eleazar b. Azaria in the College". He began by saying: "You are
standing here today, all of you, your children and your women. The men are come
to hear, the women to be rewarded for taking the steps. Why the children? In
order to give a reward to those that bring them". This drasha, based on a
verse in parashat Nizavim, was delivered on the day of his
The historical background for these sources which
we have cited is the period when the presidency was shared by Rabbi Gamaliel and
Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaria, and there was a division between them regarding the
delivery of the drasha, whereby "R. Gamaliel was to deliver the drasha on
three Sabbaths and R. Eleazar b. Azaria on one Sabbath. And therefore Mar said:
Whose Sabbath was it - it was R. Eleazar's" (Brakhot
From the wording of the question "Whose
Sabbath was it today?" and from the question that
follows "And what was the theme of his Haggadic discourse
today?" (we add "today" based on the
version in Ba-Midbar Rabba 14,4) or, in another version: "What new
teaching was there at the College today?" (according to Hagigah 3a) it
appears that this story took place on the Sabbath. If so, how did the disciples
traverse such distances on the Sabbath? Is not the distance between Lod and
Yavneh, or even
Peqi'in greater than
that allowed on the Sabbath? Not even for the purpose of greeting one's
rabbi does one transgress the Tehum Shabbat (Eruvin,
Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaria's drasha seems to
encompass several subjects. They tell Rabbi Joshua that Rabbi Eleazar ben
Azaria delivered the drasha on parashat Hakhel (verses in parashat
Va-Yelekh) and also on verses from Ki Tavo and Kohelet (In some versions, it
was Rabbi Joshua who delivered the drasha on the verses of Kohelet - thus
One might suggest that the event took place
during Hol ha-Mo'ed Sukkot, and that Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaria held a sort
of Hakhel ceremony. The
subject is parashat Hakhel - the verses that refer to the
commandment, but they are not read by the king. Rabbi Eleazar continued by
expounding verses from the parashiot read by the king in Ki Tavo before
the chastisement, verses that stress the nationalist aspect of Hakhel
-"And who is like your people Israel, one nation in the Land".
The final drasha made at this gathering
refers to Ecclesiastes or
Kohelet, which should be understood, as its name implies, as verses which were
recited in the Hakhel ceremony: "Why is the book of Kohelet called
Kohelet? Because its contents were recited at the Hakhel ceremony, as it is said
"and then Shlomo gathered (az yakhel)" (Kohelet Rabba,
Chapter 1:1). By expounding from the book of Kohelet R. Eleazar ben Azaria also
reinforced the status of Ecclesiastes, confirming that it was written with the
Holy Spirit. This decision was taken after a big dispute on the very day of his
appointment as Nasi (Yadayim 3:5).
Because of this custom to expound Kohelet at this
"Hakhel remembrance", in the course of time some communities
established the custom of reading of the Book of Kohelet every year at
Sukkot. Rabbi Eleazar ben
Azaria even completes his drasha on this book with a commentary on the opening
verse of Deuteronomy: "That is to say ‘words', ‘the
words', ‘these are the words' (Deut. 1:1), ‘All of them
are given from one shepherd' (Ecc. 12:11). One G-d gave them, one leader
uttered them, from the mouth of the Lord of all creation, blessed be He, for it
is written: ‘And G-d spoke all these words'" (Hagigah 3a).
The verse "These are the words..." from Deuteronomy introduced the
King's Torah reading at the Hakhel ceremony, and it appears that this
should be the verse cited in Hagigah as well.
Rabbi Eleazar b. Azaria was president and he
presided over the ceremony. R. Joshua's question "Whose Sabbath was
it today?" need not be interpreted to mean that that day was the Sabbath
- the seventh day. It means: who was there, who presided over the
ceremony? One can also explain that the division between them was on a weekly
basis, and that the question "Whose Sabbath?" meant, in fact:
"whose week was
it?" Perhaps Rabbi
Eleazar b. Azaria's turn to deliver the drasha fell on Hol ha-Mo'ed
Sukkot, and therefore he led the ceremony in commemoration of Hakhel.
Perhaps R. Joshua's words at the end of the
conversation between himself and R. Johanan b. Beroka and R. Eleazar Hisma:
"That generation is not an orphan, when R. Eleazar sits in its
midst" (Tosefta Sota 7:11) refer not only to the biblical interpretations
offered by R. Eleazar but to the Hakhel commemoration itself. Such a ceremony
would have reinforced his presidency in the wake of the crisis with R. Gamaliel,
and also strengthened the entire nation that was burdened with all the spiritual
and practical difficulties that followed the destruction of the Temple. The very
fact of celebrating a commemoration of the Hakhel ceremony and the Temple, only
a few years after the destruction, means "That generation is not an
orphan", for it has
Examining the other parallels, which present R.
Eleazar b. Azaria delivering similar drashot at different times on the day of
his appointment or some other Sabbath, one can understand that R. Eleazar b.
Azaria called upon the colleges to open their doors to all, and encouraged the
people - men, women and children - to join with the Torah scholars
in different ways. Saying these words on an occasion that represented a sort of
"commemoration of the Hakhel", while people were coming to welcome
him, would have served the purpose of strengthening Torah study among the
masses, after the
We know of no further efforts in later
generations to perform the ceremony of commemoration of the Hakhel. Over a
hundred years ago, the Aderet - R. Eliyahu David Rabinowitz Teomim of
Ponevitz, Lithuania and later rabbi of Jerusalem, proposed the celebration of
such a ceremony. He wrote an unsigned treatise: Zekher
la-Miqdash, in which
he calls for the celebration of an event commemorating the Hakhel. He took no
practical steps to implement this suggestion, even at the end of the Shmitta
year of 5664-1924, while he was rabbi of Jerusalem, but he was the first to
raise the subject, in both his drashot and his writings.
The first ceremony that fit the description of
commemoration of the Hakhel, following the call of the Aderet, took place at the
end of the last Shmitta year before the establishment of the State of Israel,
Sukkot 5706-1946. Perhaps it was the feeling that the people of Israel were
indeed on the threshold of renewed national sovereignty in the Land. Behind
this initiative, and those gatherings to commemorate the Hakhel following the
establishment of the state, was R. Shmuel Zanvil Kahana, later to become
director general of the Ministry of Religions of the State of Israel. From that
time on, ceremonies commemorating the Hakhel are held at the end of every
Shmitta year, some modest and limited, and some with great public
A structure similar to the Sota Tosefta is found in Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael
Bo, Tractate Pisha, 16, s.v. li hu
. Here too the drasha is on
Whether this was
Peqi'in in the Galilee or Peqi'in in Judea is discussed in by
Lieberman, p. 679.
possibility was already raised in the past. See Rabbi Haim Zvi Toibsch,
Sefer Hakhel- a collection of articles
, Kfar Darom: Makhon ha-Torah
veha-Arez, 5761-2001, p. 12; and ibid. Rabbi Professor Shmuel Kalman Mirsky, p.
647; Dr. Shmuel Zanwil Kahana, Be-Vo Kol Yisrael
, Jerusalem: Eliner
Library 5755-1995, pp.25-26; Professor Shlomo Na'eh, Sidre Kri'at
ha-Torah be-Erez Yisrael: Iyyun Mehudash, Tarbiz
67 (1998), pp. 184-186.
I thank Dr. Aharon Arendt for drawing my attention to this article.
Rabbi Avraham Ha-Yarhi, in his book Ha-Manhig
, writes of the custom of
reading Kohelet on Sukkot, "and I found a pleasing explanation, that King
Solomon of blessed memory read it during the Hakhel ceremony on the holiday (as
explained in Kohelet Rabba 80:1), and therefore it can be read on the
In other words, the drasha is on Deut. 1:1 and not on Exodus 20:1. See
Na'eh (ibid. note 3), note 79.
See Y.N. Epstein, Mevo'ot le-Sifrut ha-Tana'im
1957, p. 427.
A similar expression was used by R. Akiva about R. Eleazar b. Azaria at the time
of his death: "He was screaming and crying and saying: Woe on you, rabbi,
woe on you, my mentor, who has left the entire generation an orphan" (Avot
de-Rabbi Natan version A, Chapter 25).
R. Meir Simha Ha-Kohen of Dvinsk expanded on this idea,in Meshekh Hokhma
Deut. 31:9 (p. 297, ed. R. Y. Kuperman).
Republished anew in Sefer Hakhel
(see above, note 3), pp.