An Astonishing Miracle
‘Why Bring the Infants to Hakhel?’
The Torah commands us: “Gather the nation: men, women, children, and the converts within your gates in order that they may hear and learn to fear Hashem your G-d and carefully obey all the words of the Torah. Their children who do not know will hear and learn to fear Hashem your God for all the days that you live upon the land that you pass over the Jordan to inherit” (Devarim 31:12-13).
These pesukim describe the mitzvah of hakhel. Every Chol HaMoed Sukkos following a shemittah year, a wooden platform would be constructed in the Beis HaMikdash, and the entire Jewish people would gather to hear the king read from a Sefer Torah.
The Gemara asks why the Torah requires us to bring small children to hakhel. It answers: “In order to reward those who bring them.”
From What Age?
According to the Ramban (ibid), parents must bring only children who are almost old enough to be educated in mitzvos. As proof for this assertion, he cites the reason for hakhel stated in theTorah: “In order that they may hear and learn to fear Hashem.” This certainly does not apply to infants, who have no understanding.
The Or HaChaim differs. The Gemara says the Torah requires parents to bring children so that they will receive reward. This rationale applies to infants as well since it certainly requires effort to bring them to the Beis HaMikdash for hakhel.
The Minchas Chinuch(612:5)writes that a child from the age of 30 days must be brought (and perhaps even younger). The Meiri also expresses this opinion, citing proof from the Talmud Yerushalmi. However, he notes that children who are too weak for the trip should not be brought.
How are we to understand the Gemara’s statement that children should be brought so that their parents receive reward for bringing them?
The Kli Yakarinsists that there must be some practical benefit for the children. Otherwise, the Torah could just as well have rewarded us for carrying heavy loads of wood and rock.
Some suggest that although young children do not consciously understand, they are subconsciously influenced by the experience. In Pirkei Avos (2:8), it is said of R’ Yehoshua, “Praiseworthy is his mother.” When he was just an infant, his mother would bring his cradle into the Beis Midrash so that the special atmosphere of Torah study would have a positive effect on him. So too, the special atmosphere of hakhel has a positive effect even on infants (see Ben Yehoyada).
For Lack of Babysitters
R’ Yaakov of Lisa, author of Nesivos HaMishpat, writes that the Jewish people had no choice but to bring their infants. If every adult man and woman in all of Eretz Yisrael ascended to the Beis HaMikdash, who would stay behind to watch the children? With this in mind, the Gemara asks, “Why does the Torah command us to bring the children? In other words, why is a commandment necessary seeing that we have no choice but to bring them anyway? To this the Gemara answers, “In order to reward those who bring them.” In His love for us, Hashem rewards us for a chore we would have been forced to do in any event (Nachalas Yaakov).
The Aderes notes that a great miracle occurred each time hakhel was performed. Millions of children of all ages gathered in the Beis HaMikdash, yet none of them made the slightest noise to disturb the Torah reading (Zecher L’Mikdash).