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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Vayeilech, Devarim 31:12. The Mitzvah of Hakhel and the Mitzva of Chinuch

Chagiga 3a: Reb Yehoshua (ben Chananiah, the stam Reb Yehoshua in Shas) asked the talmidim who visited him what was new in the Bais Medrash (ein bais medrash belo chiddush). They told him that they came to hear his Torah, not to talk, but he insisted that they say something. (When I try this in my house, I just get a sour look.) So they told him what they heard about the Mitzvah of Hakheil, the law that every seven years, on the first Sukkos that follows the Shmita year, there was a mitzvah for all of Klal Yisrael, men, women, and children, even infants, to gather and hear the King read the Torah in the Beis Hamikdash. But, they said, "Bishlema the men came to learn (to analyze the deep meaning and vast permutations of Torah) and the women came to hear (to learn the many halachos that were relevant to them). But why did the children come?" The answer they heard was‘litein schar limaiviahen,’ to reward those that brought them. Reb Yehoshua said, "Such a precious pearl of an idea, and you wanted ‘le’abda mimeni’, to make me miss it!

The Gemora cannot mean that it is a mitzva that has no meaning other than to reward the doer. As the brother of the Maharal, Reb Chaim Ben Betzalel of Vurtzberg, in his "Sefer Hachaim", (Cheilek 2, perek 2, page 24) says (after bringing those that explain the Gemora in Chagiga as meaning that there is no benefit to the children), "we don’t find that moving stones from one place to another, with no benefit to anyone, is a form of service of Hashem." And as the Nesivos in Nachlas Yakov says "it is hard to understand that there is a mitzvah that has no benefit other than receiving reward." And, most certainly, Reb Yehoshua would not have been so excited to hear it.

So, the Nesivos says that the pshat is, of course there is meaning to the mitzva, like any other mitzva in the Torah, and Chazal are not questioning the reason for a mitzva, as they don’t by so many others that have no obvious reason. We don't all hold like Reb Shimon. The question was, since all the Jews over 12 or 13 would have to be in Yerushalayim they couldn’t possibly leave the infants at home. They’re going to leave the infants with the Poilishe Shikses? So, if they had to bring the children anyway, why did Hashem have to tell them to bring the children? Under the circumstances, they had no alternative but to bring the children even if they were not told to do so. The answer is that ‘ein Hakadosh Baruch Hu mekapei’ach schar kol briah’, and so, since (for whatever reason,) it is the retzon Hashem (and therefore a purposeful and meritorious act) that the children be there, Hashem wanted us to do it lesheim mitzva, so we should do it with kavana and as metzuvim ve’osim, understanding that we are bringing them because Hashem wants us to bring them.

But the problem is that the Gemora says that "Bishlema the men came to learn, and the women came to hear. But why did the children come." This lashon shows that the Gemara is asking what the reason for bringing the children is! According to the Nesivos, the Gemara should have asked "Why is there a tzivui to bring the children?", not "Why do the children come?" And, the Gemara does seems to be saying that the only reason is litein schar lemaivi’aihen, which is mashma that that is the only reason the Gemora could come up with. Really, the Nesivos seems to be offering a novel alternative to the perplexing literal meaning of the Gemara. So, if we do want to take the Gemara at face value, we have to continue looking.

Reb Moshe, in his Teshuvos, Yoreh Deah 2:104, towards the end, offers a pshat in the Gemara. Many times, parents evaluate their children, and if they think the child is not going to be a gadol, they will not work hard to teach him Torah, and if they think he is completely untalented, they will do only the most perfunctory effort to teach him. Now, let us look at the Gemara. The Gemora's question is based on the assumption that the din of Hakhel is a din of Chinuch. If so, asks the Gemara, what is the purpose of bringing the children? If the chiyuv is the general mitzvah of chinuch, what kind of benefit are the little children getting from going? So the Gemara answers, you are wrong. The parent’s chiyuv of chinuch is absolute. Chinuch is a maiseh that the Torah was mechayev the parents under all circumstances, at all ages, for all children, whether they see the benefit or not. It is none of their business to calculate what benefit their children will get from the chinuch, just as they don’t do a cost/benefit analysis when they buy a lulav and esrog. Teach them to the best of your ability, even if it seems that they don't understand a word. But in truth, just as by other mitzvos, there is a benefit, whether we know it or not, there is a chinuch benefit even for babies to go to Hakhel.

I always was bothered, though, by the lashon of the Gemara, that says "litein schar limeivi’eihen", because according to this, the Gemara should say "so that the little children will benefit", or "because this, too, is chinuch". But I found that the Akeidas Yitzchok, the Akeida, provides an interesting insight into what Reb Moshe's pshat. He explains that bringing the children is not really chinuch as the term is generally understood, because the little children understand nothing. But it prepares the child for chinuch. It prepares the ground, it makes it softer and more receptive to the seeds that will be planted later. It makes the child a better beis kibul. This explains the loshon of the Gemara— bringing the children to Hakhel brings schar to those that bring them, because when they later begin their childrens’ chinuch, the children will be more receptive and more in tune with what they learn. That is the schar lemeivi’eihen-- it enhances the parents later chinuch. It is, in a sense, like the Ibud Lishma that is a necessary precursor for writing a sefer torah that has kedusha. This idea becomes even more beautiful with Reb Meir Simcha’s vort, as follows.

Reb Meir Simcha here says that the reason Reb Yehoshua was so happy with the vort is because the Yerushalmi in Yevomos (first perek, mishna 6, 8b in our print) says that when Rav Dosa ben Harkinus was visited by Reb Yehoshua, Reb Akiva, and Reb Eliezer, he gazed upon them and said an insight about each of them. About Reb Yehoshua he said "Es mi yoreh dai’ah, es mi yovin shmu’a, gemulai meicholov, atikei mishodoyim. Zochur ani shehoyso imo moleches arisaso lebais hakneses bishvil sheyisdabku oznov bedivrei Torah," I remember that his mother used to bring his cradle to the Beis Medrash so that the words of Torah would attach themselves to his ears." Reb Yehoshua was so happy because he saw that what his mother realized intuitively was da’as Hashem as expressed in the din of Hakhel. He knew that the reason the Torah was mechayev chinuch even for babies is because there absolutely is a benefit, as he had learned from his own life story. The chinuch of children begins before they are born, and every experience the child has leaves a roshem. This is the Torah equivalent to

R’ Elchonon at the end of Kovetz He’oros #3 discusses the Gemara in Bava Basra 9, that talks about the zechus of having your tzedakah go to the deserving poor, and not to frauds, or slackers or worse. (From Yirmiahu 18, involving his problem with the people from his hometown, the Anshei Anosos, who maliciously spread the deadly rumor that he was having an affair with a married woman, so he cursed them that their tzedakah money should go to unworthy recipients.) He asks, but they want to give to deserving poor, their intentions are good, and Hashem is "maaleh alav ke’ilu asa’o," Hashem elevates good intentions to be as if they were carried out! So what’s the difference who gets it? He answers with a Ramchal who says that every mitzvah has two aspects; the tikkun of the briah and kiyum r’tzon Hashem. "Ma'aleh alav" only goes to retzon Hashem, but not the tikkun of the briah, and the powerful merit of tzedakah that is such a tremendous meigin (protection from suffering) is only generated by the tikkun habriah aspect. We can explain the Gemara in Chagigah by saying that the mitzvah of Hakheil is only the second and not the first aspect. Or, that the talmidim thought it was only for the second aspect, but Reb Yehoshua, from the perspective of his unique experience, realized that it was for the first as well.


Chaim B. said...

Kesiva v'chasima tova!!

Barzilai said...

As your BIL RYGB would say, KvCT to you, too.

Anonymous said...

והמסקיל יבין-כל בו

arnie draiman said...

very nice - but help me understand yermiyahu 18 - i do not see that it says that he chastises the people by saying that they tzedakah money should go to fakers.

where is that from?

arnie draiman

Barzilai said...

Arnie D:
The last words of Yirmiahu perek 18 end the curse that Yirmiahu pronounced against the men of Anasos. The previous psukim are filled with terrible imprecations, like starvation, untimely death, war, and the like, and then, in the last passuk, he says "ve'yihyu muchshalim lefanecha." This seems like a very mild way to end such a terrible curse-- "may they stumble before you." Also, "muchshalim" implies that if they attempt to do something that would normally save them, "may they stumble in the attempt." On this basis, Rava, in Bava Basra 9b, at the end of the page, says that Yirmiahu meant to ensure that his curse would not be held back when those enemies of his would give tzedakah. Normally, their mitzva of tzedaka would save them from yesurim. So he asked that when they give tzedaka it should be to undeserving people.