Vayeilech-Two mitzvoth

In our parsha (Vayeilech), we find the final two positive commandments of the Torah – Hakhel (“Gather” the people to hear the king) and Kitvu lachem (“Write yourselves…”).  Why are these the final two positive mitzvoth of the Torah?

Regarding the mitzvah of kitvu lachem (“write the song…’) this is not really a big question.  On the simple textual level (pshat), the commandment applies to the following parsha of the Torah, Hoazinu, in which appears a lovely poem inspiring the Jews to remain attached to God and to His Torah.  The mitzvah, then is to write the poem for posterity.  However, regarding the mitzvah of Hakhel, which occurs every seven years following the sabbatical year, it would have made more sense to place it adjacent to the commandment of the sabbatical year itself, which occurs way back in Vayikrah in parshat Behar.  Since the mitzvah anyway occurs after the sabbatical year, it would have made sense to command the two mitzvoth at the same time in parshat Behar

But, when we look closely, we see that Hakhel is not a result or detail of the shmita Sabbatical year.  It is a continuation of Moshe’s words to the Jewish people before they entered the land of Israel. In Deut 31:7, Moshe instructed the Jews, “When you enter the land that was sworn…read this Torah..gather the people…”  Moshe instructed Joshua how to educate the Jews when they enter the land.  As part of his will, he told Joshua, “in order they should hear…and their offspring should hear…”  Thus, on the simple textual (pshat) level, the mitzvah of Hakhel belongs at the end of the Torah because it was then that the Jews were about to enter Israel and they needed to hear how they were to conduct themselves in the land of Israel.

However, on the second, rabbinical level (drosh), things are not so simple.  The rabbis interpreted the commandment Kitvu lachem as a command to write a sefer Torah; that is, it is incumbent upon every Jew to take a part in writing a Torah scroll.  Similarly regarding Hakhel, on the rabbinic level, we cannot say that the mitzvah is from Moshe to Joshua, because every mitzvah comes from God to man, and not from man to man.

By looking in the Rambam (Hilchot Hagiga 3:6), we can get a better understanding of Hakhel:  “[The people] are obligated to prepare their hearts and to discipline their ears to listen in fear and awe, in joy and trembling, since these are the words that were given at Sinai. Even the wise, who know the entire Torah, are obligated to listen with great attention,…and he should see himself as if now he is commanded in this mitzvah and hearing it from God…”  Put simply, then, according to the Rambam, Hakhel is a “replay” of the situation at Mt. Sinai.  Since the Jews were now forty years after the giving of the Torah, under different leadership and in a different time and place, it was necessary to review and renew their faith and connection with the seminal event of Jewish history – the receiving of the Torah.  And that is why the mitzvah is placed at the end of the Torah.  It is now time to transmit the Torah to a new generation under new leadership in a different time and place – and for this a mitzvah is necessary to remind the Jews of their roots and their responsibilities.

The same is true of Kitvu lachem – the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah – the purpose is to remind us, even though we were not present at Mt. Sinai, of that great event and how it lives on through our ongoing fulfillment of Torah and mitzvoth.   And the reason that we need both of these mitzvoth is that Hakhel reminds us of our obligation to fulfill the mitzvoth, while Kitvu lachem reminds us of our obligation to learn the Torah.

For a longer, more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From LIkutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 34, page 187-193

 

 

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