Hakhel: A Day That Lasts a Year (and Six More…)


    Hakhel: A Day That Lasts a Year (and Six More…)

    Interview with Rabbi Yosef Karasik, Rav in Emek Chefer and author of the popular series The Jewish Home on how the Rebbe “revolutionized” the mitzva of Hakhel in theory and in practice • By Beis Moshiach Magazine • Full Article

    By Menachem Ziegelbaum, Beis Moshiach

    Rabbi Yosef Karasik has been serving in rabbanus for over 30 years, first as a rav and shliach in the Central Arava region of the country and then in Bat Chefer-Emek Chefer. In both areas he has made the name of Heaven beloved among his flock, who look up to him not only as their Rav but also as someone pleasant to deal with, someone whose door is always open for them.

    He has successfully been mekarev Jews of many backgrounds and communities, who were so far from the path of Torah and mitzvos. In his gentle way he broke down barriers and reached people’s hearts. Whoever has seen the magnificent shul he established in Sapir in the Central Arava area, as well as the numerous people who regularly frequent it, will understand what a “something from nothing” feat this was. Beforehand, there were no shuls in the area – and nobody who asked for one either.

    He is well known for his clear writing style which suits a broad array of people from the Chassidic to the not-yet-religious. His major literary accomplishment is HaBayis HaYehudi B’mishnas HaKabbala V’HaChassidus, in which he explains the topic of the Jewish home from various angles (translated by SIE). He wrote and edited another book in the same style, HaShabbos B’ Kabbala U’B’Chasidus (two volumes). He also published a book on tzedaka and the laws of interest from a Chassidic perspective, which was even published in Russian. He is invited by shluchim throughout the country to speak.

    For a few years, R’ Karasik was the chozer in 770. After the farbrengens, he would sit and review the sichos the Rebbe had said, translating them into Lashon HaKodesh for his friends, and explaining them as well. I still remember hundreds of guests crowding around him after a farbrengen.

    R’ Karasik spent two Hakhel years in Crown Heights, and I asked him to share his memories of those years with us.

    Rabbi Yosef Karasik


    First of all, as we begin the Shnas Hakhel, please give us a description of Hakhel during the Temple times.

    Once in seven years, after the shemitta year, on the first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkos, all the Jewish people gathered – men, women, and children – in the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash, in the Ezras Nashim. A special wooden platform was built, upon which the king sat and read sections from the book of Devarim which urged the nation to observe the mitzvos.

    After reading from the Torah, the king prayed to Hashem on behalf of the nation, that they be blessed with success in all matters, both material and spiritual. He concluded with seven blessings for the nation, the malchus, the Kohanim and the Beis HaMikdash.

    The Torah reading was from a Torah that was used only once in seven years, and from several sources it sounds like it was the Torah that Moshe wrote himself, on his final day.

    The Hakhel gathering was preceded by the blowing of trumpets. On the morning of that day, Kohanim scattered throughout Yerushalayim and blew golden trumpets, in order to remind the people that the special day had arrived and they had to go to the Temple Mount.

    What else took place then?

    There were no speeches by distinguished rabbis, not even by the High Priest. It was only the king who read most of Devarim from the Torah scroll. We can assume that it took at least an hour or more.

    The main topics the king read about were: the mitzva of belief in G-d, accepting the yoke of Heaven and the yoke of mitzvos, about the mitzvos dependent on the Land – the section about truma and maaser for the priests and levites, the mitzva of gifts to the poor, and the curses and blessings.

    Why was this gathering regarded with such importance when there was nothing new in what the king read?

    Indeed, the king did not impart anything new. He read verses that everybody knew. Yet everybody was commanded to come and stand silently and reverently, with “great kavana,” because the goal was not to acquire new information. The goal was to strengthen the nation’s belief in Hashem, and urge them to go in the ways of the Torah.

    By the king reading those passages, he implanted a dveikus (cleaving) to the path of uprightness and truth. There is an expression in one of the Rishonim (the Chinuch, mitzva #612) which says, “This mitzva is a strong pillar and great glory in our religion.”

    I assume millions of Jews assembled to listen to the king. How did they all hear him?

    It was an enormous crowd of millions of Jews; but more than hearing, the main thing was to see and experience. Just being present and seeing the king and all the people gathered together at the Beis HaMikdash, had a tremendous spiritual effect on everyone.

    The entire event was an outstandingly uplifting one, which left an indelible impression for at least seven years, until the next Hakhel gathering.


    The Rebbe made an issue of the topic of Hakhel. What’s the Rebbe’s approach to it?

    At the farbrengen Erev Shnas Hakhel, 5734, the Rebbe explained something amazing about Hakhel – that it was actually a sort of Mattan Torah at Sinai experience revisited. The Rebbe said: In order to arouse and strengthen the nation to cleave to Torah and mitzvos, Hashem established that once in seven years there would be something like Mattan Torah at Har Sinai. This was Hakhel, when the king read from the Torah so that the nation could, as it were, relive Mattan Torah.

    This idea is based on Rambam (Hilchos Chagiga) which says that the participants in Hakhel have to listen with awe like at the event of Mattan Torah, and when the king read from the Torah, the Jew had to consider it “as though he was just commanded and that he heard it from Hashem.” So the Rambam compares Hakhel to Mattan Torah at Sinai!

    So you can imagine the great excitement people felt at this once in-seven-years event, which was reminiscent of Mattan Torah, when all the Jewish people heard the Ten Commandments.


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    In the Rebbe’s sichos, the expression “Shnas Hakhel” appears, not “Mitzvas Hakhel.” The mitzva ended after an hour or two yet the Rebbe extended the idea to the entire year. Why?

    The term “Shnas Hakhel” that the Rebbe used countless times is not self understood. It’s one thing to call the seventh year “Shnas Shemitta,” because the mitzva of shemitta applies to the entire year when the land must not be worked, but Hakhel was done on the second day of Sukkos only. So why did the Rebbe refer to the entire year as Shnas Hakhel? Why would a mitzva that applied at the beginning of the year provide a name for the entire year?

    It’s the Rebbe’s chiddush. Since the event was exceedingly dramatic, with the uniting of all Jews around the king, it affected the entire year.

    How does Chassidus view the mitzva of Hakhel?

    The mitzva of Hakhel gives a Jew the strength to prevail in the mundane world and preserve that spiritual atmosphere during the next six years (until the next shemitta).

    In the year before Hakhel, the shemitta year, the Jew was cut off from mundane work in the field and his time was dedicated to Hashem and His service. At the end of the shemitta year he went back to work – plowing, planting, harvesting and other mundane activities. In order that his daily work would not weaken his fear of Heaven, the Torah commands him to go to the king and hear words of inspiration from him.

    From this we see how powerful Hakhel was. It was an event that took just a few hours, yet it left such an imprint that it enabled the Jew to serve Hashem in the six years to come!

    How did such a short event educate people to dveikus to the ways of Torah?

    The Rebbe once explained this as follows: The shemitta year was actually a year of Shabbos. Just as on Shabbos, a Jew transcends his weekday affairs and hovers in more elevated realms, so too, in a way, throughout the shemitta year a Jew transcended daily life by being forbidden to work the land.

    When the shemitta year was over, he had to return to the daily grind by descending from his spiritual high. This is inherently dangerous, because in the transition from the rarified atmosphere of “Shabbos” to the weekday, a person can lose his bearings. This is why we were commanded to go to the king, who confers the strength to transmit the holiness into the mundane world.

    The mitzva of Hakhel was like a havdala ceremony that the king did for the people at the end of Shabbos- the year of shemitta.

    In the Rebbe’s letters and sichos he emphasizes the children in the mitzva of Hakhel. Why is there an emphasis on children when in other mitzvos they are exempt?

    The Torah says explicitly to gather everyone, men, women and children. In tractate Chagiga, Chazal ask why the children have to be brought, “The men come to listen; the women come to see; but why do the children come?” Rabbi Elozor ben Azaria answers, “To give a reward to those who bring them.”

    On such an occasion, it would only be proper if there was utter silence so people could concentrate on hearing the king, that even a bird would not fly or chirp like at Mattan Torah. But when you think of millions of children being present, who are bored being there for so long, what do you think they did? They cried, played and generally caused chaos. You would think that this would adversely affect the ceremony. How could people pay attention to the Torah reading with millions of children distracting them?

    Furthermore, the Aliya L’regel, especially for those who lived far from Yerushalayim, was a difficult trip involving walking for days and weeks. They were told to bring the children so they would have a greater reward. What does this mean – to endanger a child in order that the parents have a better seat in Gan Eden?

    The words of the Tanna, “to give reward to those who bring them” has a deeper meaning:

    There is no greater reward for parents than children who are raised to Torah and fear of Heaven, to faith and connection to the king. The assemblage of the nation at the Mikdash with the king would be engraved in their tender souls and pave the way for a lifetime of Torah and mitzvos.

    This is the great reward that the parents, who brought their children to Hakhel, received. The trip may have been difficult, but it resulted in years of nachas and peace of mind.

    This is also true for our trip to the Rebbe in galus. We need to bring the children to Beis Rabbeinu She’b’Bavel. This will positively affect them, and educate them to Torah and Chassidus with dveikus and hiskashrus to the Rebbe.


    What was special about a Hakhel year in Beis Chayeinu?

    Hakhel years in 770 were special. To a certain extent, those who spent a Shnas Hakhel in 770 felt that it was something like the actual Hakhel, as people gathered around the Rebbe, our king and leader of the generation, as he stood on the nights of Sukkos and taught us Torah.

    In the Hakhel year of 5741, the Rebbe began to say sichos each night of Sukkos. He also announced Mivtza Simchas Beis HaShoeiva, namely that every night of Sukkos we should go out and dance in the street and rejoice.

    Hakhel emphasizes children, whereas other mitzvos in the Torah do not address children directly. Indeed, at the hakafos of Hakhel 5741, something unusual took place for children:

    The established custom was that at the hakafos the rabbanim, distinguished members of Anash, and honored guests were honored, but before the fifth hakafa there was an enormous surprise when the Rebbe called up all the children (and their educators) for the hakafa. The Rebbe himself went to the hakafa with the children, and he held the Torah for about ten minutes. He danced vigorously and with great joy that cannot be described in words. That hakafa was like the great Hakhel when the king read from the Torah before the people, including the children.

    Since then, in many shuls of Anash the custom is that fifth hakafa is dedicated to the children and their teachers, especially in a Hakhel year.

    I should add that the Rebbe also founded the Tzivos Hashem organization that Sukkos.

    Can you tell us more about what the Rebbe did in a Hakhel year?

    In many farbrengens and sichos, the Rebbe mentioned the mitzva of Hakhel and explained that with every mitzva and holy action that you do during the year, you have to feel that it is part of Shnas Hakhel. There were years when, in nearly every sicha and farbrengen, the Rebbe mentioned the significance of the year and connected the inyan of the day to Hakhel.

    In the Hakhel years of 5741 and 5748, there were many additional “Hakhels”, which the Rebbe himself made. The Rebbe farbrenged or said a sicha on nearly every possible occasion, and he participated in many Tzivos Hashem children’s rallies.

    As was previously mentioned, starting from Hakhel 5741 the Rebbe began to say a sicha every night of Sukkos. That year, the Rebbe even farbrenged on two very unusual occasions, which he had never done before:

    Purim afternoon, which was a Friday that year, the Rebbe entered the zal upstairs and held a brief farbrengen. He said a maamar, they sang a niggun etc. On Shabbos HaGadol of that year, which fell on 14 Nissan, Erev Pesach, the Rebbe held a farbrengen (the refreshments were water and bananas since on Erev Pesach we don’t eat food that is used Pesach night). I remember that the tmimim connected these unusual events with the fact that it was a Shnas Hakhel.

    In earlier years, the Rebbe would farbreng only on Shabbos Mevarchim or on Shabbasos that were close to some special date, but from Shnas Hakhel 5748, the Rebbe farbrenged every Shabbos, not only when there was a reason to do so because of the date.

    Something that stood out in those Hakhel years was the tremendous simcha, especially during Sukkos. That’s the way it as in 5741 when the Rebbe announced Mivtza Simchas Beis HaShoeiva, and all the nights of Sukkos they danced till dawn. That’s when the dancing on Kingston and Montgomery began.

    In 5748 there was also tremendous and special joy at the Simchas Torah hakafos. They were longer, and the simcha was unusually great. Many interpreted this as being associated with a Shnas Hakhel (in addition to it being ten years since the Rebbe’s heart attack and recovery in 5738).

    You were present that Sukkos 5741, when they started the Simchas Beis HaShoeiva dancing every night. What do you remember?

    The sicha of the first night of Sukkos was a surprise; nobody expected it. I was a young boy and I was unable to find a place close to the Rebbe during farbrengens, and it was hard for me to hear the Rebbe on Shabbos when there was no microphone. During that particular sicha I was close to the Rebbe and was able to hear him, which made me elated.

    In my mind’s eye I can see that special moment when the Rebbe suddenly began to speak. A tumult erupted as people pushed to get close to be able to hear the sicha. In the first seconds this created a lot of noise, so the Rebbe paused and waited until the crowd more or less settled down, and then he continued speaking. For me personally it was very special, since I finally got to hear a sicha from the Rebbe on Yom Tov.

    After the sicha, in which the Rebbe said we should dance and rejoice, the tmimim in 770 felt that they had to do something. Spontaneously, the simcha and dancing burst out and over to that famous corner, at Kingston and Montgomery. Till this day, I remember the second night of Yom Tov, when the tmimim and Anash began dancing in the street. I believe this was the first time that they blocked the street with their dancing.

    Close to dawn, they all danced their way back to 770. On the way, they passed by the Rebbe’s house on President Street, where the simcha exploded. From there they continued with song and dance towards 770, and most people dispersed and went home. A handful of tmimim continued to dance in the zal upstairs.

    I was just a little past my bar mitzva and I fell, exhausted, on to the Rebbe’s upholstered bench, where he sat during Mincha and Maariv in the upstairs zal. But the older tmimim did not let me rest. They picked me up on their shoulders and for a long time they sang and danced with tremendous joy, “Ashreinu she’anu Chassidim.”

    The sweet taste of that simcha and brotherly, Chassidishe love, and tremendous love for the Rebbe, are engraved in my heart forever.

    The second night of Sukkos of that year, 5741, it wasn’t clear whether the Rebbe would say a sicha. People didn’t know whether the sicha of the first night was a one-time thing, or the Rebbe had started a new practice. Together with another two friends from yeshiva, we decided it was worth coming early to reserve a place so we could hear a sicha if one was said.

    By three in the afternoon we had already taken places and indeed, the Rebbe said a sicha and I was able to hear him. I was the happiest person on earth.

    You had a yechidus with the Rebbe in a Shnas Hakhel …

    I had yechidus in Tishrei of that year but it was a general-yechidus. I remember the moment we entered the Rebbe’s room, and it is one of the most moving scenes I experienced that Tishrei 5741.

    A group of us tmimim from Tomchei Tmimim in Lud stood in Gan Eden HaTachton for personal yechidus, when it was suddenly suggested that all the Tmimim from the yeshivos in Lud and Kfar Chabad enter together. All the tmimim and the hanhala agreed to the suggestion, and we all entered the Rebbe’s room, where we stood in a semi-circle and received the Rebbe’s bracha.

    In that yechidus there were about thirty bachurim. That was, more or less, the number of bachurim who had come to the Rebbe that Tishrei. Most bachurim remained in Eretz Yisrael. Chabad has expanded tremendously in Eretz Yisrael, and the unbelievable number of tmimim who travel every year from Eretz Yisrael to 770 is now in the thousands! Is there a bigger miracle than this?


    It seems the Rebbe wanted to create a revolution through the mitzva of Hakhel.

    At some farbrengens and in some sichos, mainly in 5748, the Rebbe explained that in a Hakhel year we must have gatherings at every opportunity, and use them to inspire people to fear Hashem. This is reminiscent of the great Hakhel gathering which the king addressed in the Beis HaMikdash. The gatherings should take place all year long, and not just on Sukkos.

    How should every one of us prepare himself for this special avoda that the Rebbe gave us for a Shnas Hakhel?

    Just as we learn the laws of each holiday from Shulchan Aruch, so too we must learn and know the Rebbe’s horaos for a Shnas Hakhel from the sichos of the last Shnas Hakhel we had with the Rebbe, 5748. They are printed and available in various anthologies. In addition, every Chassid and Tamim should study and review the rest of the sichos in which the Rebbe explains what Hakhel is all about (a partial list is provided).

    Many people want to travel to the Rebbe at some point this year. They also want to take their families. What do you think about this?

    The Hakhel gathering is about hiskashrus to the king, with the emphasis on the entire nation coming before the king, seeing him, and listening while he davened and read from the Torah. From this experience one drew strength for the next six years. When we are in galus and we don’t have the Beis HaMikdash or a king, the best place to hold a similar event is in 770.

    In 5748, after Tishrei, the Rebbe thanked all those who came to him, and it appears from that sicha that the Rebbe very much wants us to go to 770 in a Shnas Hakhel.

    It is important to stress another point. Since the Rebbe coined the phrase, “Shnas Hakhel,” and he said many times that throughout the entire year gatherings should be made that are like the original Hakhel, someone who was unable to go to 770 for Sukkos, or in Tishrei at all, should at least see it as his obligation and privilege to go to 770 at some point during the year.

    Prices of tickets from Eretz Yisrael and other places have gone up significantly, which makes it challenging to travel, but this is an attempt by the Evil Inclination to prevent people from going. There is no doubt that being in Beis Rabbeinu in a Shnas Hakhel has a tremendous spiritual power for the coming years, so people should try to overcome all obstacles and do what they can to go to Beis Rabbeinu at least once during Hakhel.

    Since the mitzva of Hakhel is also for the children, even in our day, in galus, children should be brought to 770. This will touch their hearts, and educate them to Torah and Chassidus with dveikus and hiskashrus to the Rebbe.


    Aside from gatherings, what other significance is there to Hakhel?

    Firstly, it’s important to emphasize the Rebbe’s hora’ah, that in a Shnas Hakhel there ought to be gatherings in every community, city and country – and this was said, first and foremost, to Lubavitcher communities around the world. According to the Rebbe’s hora’ah, there should be Hakhel gatherings for all of Anash and the tmimim in every location.

    Secondly, these gatherings have an additional purpose, especially nowadays:

    It’s no secret that there are people outside of Lubavitch who think that there is a lack of unity among us. We need to show them that the truth is that we are all brothers and are united.

    We are all Chabad Chassidim and the Rebbe’s talmidim. We all strive to fulfill the Rebbe’s horaos and to learn his teachings. True, there are differences of opinion in how to understand various sichos and what the Rebbe meant about how the Besuras HaGeula should be spread, but Chabad was, and will remain, one united entity forever. Nothing will cancel our love and Chassidic fraternity, as it was from the day Chabad Chassidus was founded by the Alter Rebbe over 230 years ago. It will continue further, with Hashem’s help, until the hisgalus of Moshiach, may that be now!

    It is vital that we preserve a united front and don’t splinter. The bottom line is that we all want to educate our children in the way of Chassidus and in 99% of things we are on the same page. We are all Lubavitchers and the differences between us are merely trivial in nature.

    Everybody knows that the Rebbe spoke nonstop about Ahavas Yisrael and Achdus Yisrael. At the last farbrengen we had, on Parshas Vayakhel, 5752, the Rebbe focused on the topic of Ahavas Yisrael and being careful with our words so as not to hurt another person, even if he holds differently than us.

    Speaking negatively about someone presents an enormous spiritual danger, for chinuch as well:

    When a child hears his father or teacher speaking derogatorily about a rav or mashpia, or any Chassid, the message the child absorbs is the fact that his father or teacher can criticize a rav or mashpia etc. Who, then, will guarantee that when the child grows older, he won’t also speak derogatorily about a rav or mashpia?

    But if the child is taught that we cannot speak negatively about any Chassid, rav or mashpia, that will remain with him forever, and it will be a protective wall for his continued education in the way of Torah and mitzvos.

    The only way to stop the machlokes is through learning Chassidus, which refines the middos and subdues the trait of arrogance, so that each of us looks at another from the bottom-up, and accepts every Chassid with love and not with criticism.

    Hakhel gatherings in all Lubavitcher communities, cities and countries are mandatory in order to fulfill the Rebbe’s horaa and to show the world that we are “one man, with one heart.”

    The “Order of the Day” is to bring Moshiach. Ahavas Yisrael and Achdus Yisrael at Hakhel gatherings is the way to hasten the hisgalus.

    * * *


    The following is a partial list of five fundamental sichos about Hakhel, which teach what the mitzva is and the ramifications for nowadays:

    • Likkutei Sichos, volume 14, for Parshas Vayeilech (the role of the Kohanim in blowing the golden trumpets on the day of Hakhel)

    • Likkutei Sichos, volume 19, for Sukkos (about bringing little children to Hakhel)

    • Likkutei Sichos, volume 24, for Parshas Vayeilech (the mitzva of Hakhel at the end of Shemitta, the verses that the king read at Hakhel)

    • Likkutei Sichos, volume 34, for Parshas Vayeilech (Hakhel in the Mikdash like Mattan Torah at Har Sinai)

    • Likkutei Sichos, volume 34 for Sukkos (fulfilling the mitzva when in galus)

    * * *

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