Friday, September 03, 2010
VaYeilech 5634 First Ma'amar
In this week's parsha we find the mitzvah of Hakhel. On the Succos following a shmitta year, the entire nation, men, women, children and alien residents gather in the Beis HaMikdash to hear the king read from the Torah. The men come to learn. The women come to listen. Why are we required to bring the children? The children are not required to perform mitzvos. What purpose is served by bringing them? Chazal teach us that we bring the children so that we may be rewarded. A strange answer to be sure! The Sfas Emes asks that if there is no point to their coming, then why are the parents rewarded for bringing them?
Before we can understand the answer we really need to understand the question better. After all, every Jew even a child has a soul and can receive enlightenment through exposure to Torah. This is why at the beginning of this week's first parsha Nitzavim we find, "אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי ה' אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם ... כָּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל׃ טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם וְגֵרְךָ .../Today all of you are standing before God your Lord … every man of
Israel. Your children, your women, and the alien resident …" Here, Chazal do not ask why the children are there. The children obviously benefit from experiencing the covenant which God made with the nation. Why, then, do Chazal question the requirement to bring our children to participate in the mitzvah of Hakheil?
To answer this question, there are two things we need to understand about serving God and receiving enlightenment. First, all our accomplishments are possible only because God helps us. There is nothing about serving God and experiencing Him that is not from Him. As David HaMelech said, "כִּי־מִמְּךָ הַכֹּל וּמִיָּדְךָ נָתַנּו לָךְ/… for everything is from You and from Your hand we gave to You." (Divrei HaYamim 1 29:14)
If everything that we do and accomplish is really from God, what is our role? This leads us to the second thing we need to understand about serving God. Our job, the Sfas Emes teaches, is to cultivate and strengthen our will and desire to come close to God, to experience Him and to do His will. We awaken the desire to experience God and be enlightened by Him through Torah and prayer. This is the meaning of God's promise, "כִּי לֹא תִשָּׁכַח מִפִּי זַרְעוֹ/It will not be forgotten from the mouth of his descendents" The word "mouth" is an allusion to the power of our Torah and prayer and our ability to find enlightenment through them.
So, we need to have the desire to serve God and then God helps us to do it. This is the meaning of, "שְׂכַר מִצְוָה מִצְוָה/The reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah." The reward for wanting to perform mitzvos is the opportunity, the wherewithal and the ability to do so.
Accordingly, Chazal ask, why bring the children to Hakheil. Children may have a desire to serve God. It's certainly not easy for children to come to Hakheil, stand and listen while the king reads from the Torah. But what is the result of this effort? The reward for coming to Hakheil – the ability to perform mitzvos – does not apply to children.
The answer, Chazal teach us, is that the focus of bringing our children is us, not the children. It is our mitzvah to bring our children to hear the king read from the Torah. It is our desire that they grow into learned and God fearing Jews. Our reward is seeing this happen. Our children benefit through our efforts and positive desires for them.
This concept applies to everyone, not only to children. Anyone who does not have a strong desire to devote himself to God, can submit to Tzadikim who do. The strong desire of the tzadikim that each and every member of the nation serve God properly affects all those who submit to them just as the parents' desire to bring their children to Hakhel affects the children.
From the perspective of the tzadik, anyone who has a strong desire for anything related to serving God, is best off involving others instead of doing it alone. If, for example, someone wants to improve and fulfill the mitzvah of not speaking lashon hara properly, the best thing to do is to work at influencing others as well. As a reward for his efforts and desire, people who submit to him will be affected positively and will be inspired to fulfill this mitzvah properly according to the principle of, "שְׂכַר מִצְוָה מִצְוָה/the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah," as the Sfas Emes explained earlier.
When we see our positive desires having a positive influence on others, we are strongly motivated and our own desire for serving God becomes even stronger, much stronger than it would have been had we focused only on ourselves. God accepts our desire to serve Him not as a private individuals, but rather as part of the nation. This is certainly much more effective.