This coming year is the year of Hakhel. The special once-in-seven-years event that took place during Beis HaMikdash times. Well, the good news is that even without the Beis HaMikdash, we can still host similar gatherings in the year of Hakhel.
What is Hakhel? Hakhel was a gathering that took place on the holiday of Sukkot following the sabbatical year in the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim. Every Jew – man, woman and child – was expected to be present, and the king would read to them special selections from the Torah.
Nowadays, there is no Jewish king, and there is no Beis HaMikdash. But the essence of this mitzvah, gathering together with fellow Jews for Torah study and inspiration, is something each and every one of us can do.
When to Hakhel? The entire year is the right time to hold a Hakhel gathering. As Hakhel is a perpetual mitzvah we cannot discharge it by doing one Hakhel gathering, however large. Every time we do a gathering we have a “fresh” mitzvah of Hakhel as the mitzvah has no limits.
Where to Hakhel? The main factor when choosing a location is to find a place where you will be able to gather the largest amount of people for the most meaningful, inspiring experience. So think about whom you’ll be inviting and where they’ll be most comfortable when deciding on a location.
There is something special about holding Hakhel in a synagogue or another place where Torah is studied, since it’s the closest we have to the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim. But your living room, backyard, classroom or boardroom are all ideal spots as well, if they will enhance the mitzvah.
How to Hakhel? When crafting your Hakhel program, here are some tips to bear in mind:
Make it relevant: Think about what’s going on in the Jewish calendar. If there is an upcoming holiday or anniversary, you can incorporate a study of its significance into the program. One of the best (and little explored) topics for a Hakhel gathering is Hakhel itself. That’s right, you can read how Hakhel was done way back when as well as how it can be done today. You may even want to study the Rambam’s depiction of the event in Hilchos Chagigo.
“You have to live with the times,” the saying goes. For us Jews, that means the weekly Torah portion. You can prepare for a Hakhel session based on the parsha, with Rashi and the commentaries printed in most Chumashim.
Make it fun: Invite your friends over to watch a Torah-related video, or throw a themed party that includes some Torah learning. We particularly recommend the Sichos of the Rebbe as a wonderful springboard for lively discussion.
Make it inspirational: When the king would gather the Jews, the purpose was to inspire awe of G-d and mitzvah observance. When planning your Hakhel session, think of ways to foster a stronger sense of attachment to G-d. Perhaps you can focus on a certain mitzvah, talking about its deep beauty and how it can be applied in our everyday lives. Even before the class begins, you can think of some practical suggestions that the conversation can lead to. That way, the Hakhel will continue long after you’ve said goodbye.
Make it sweet: A military man once said, “An army runs on its stomach.” The same can often be said about the attendees of Torah classes. You may want to provide some good food and recite brachos before partaking, and the discussion will be all that much more appealing.
Simplest form of Hakhel: The simplest form of Hakhel is a shiur between yourself and even only one single Jew. And, of course, arranging such shiurim in your community. Let your Hakhel take root and spread seeds. Speak to your friends and help them craft their own unique Hakhel gatherings.
You can do it! Even if you are not a rabbi or public official, or even if you’ve never viewed yourself as a leader, you can create a successful Hakhel gathering. Why? Because, hey, everyone enjoys getting together with friends and doing something positive for our world.
You can use modern technology to let people know about your Hakhel gathering. If you’re sending out texts, you may want to write something like:
Join me at [place] on [date] at [time] for Hakhel. Good food, good learning and good discussion are on the menu. #Hakhel
A sample email may be something like:
Title: Please Come to My Hakhel Gathering
You may know that this year is a Hakhel year, when Jews all over the world gather for special sessions of Torah study.
I’m arranging a Hakhel gathering where we’ll learn some exciting Torah, enjoy some thoughtful discussions, and hopefully come out inspired. Your presence will add a lot, and I really hope you can make it.
We’ll be meeting at [place] on [date] from [time] to [time].
Please reply to this email to let me know that you’re coming.
Looking forward to seeing you,