הקהל את העם האנשים והנשים והטף… למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את ה’ אלקיכם ושמרו לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת (לא:יב).
“Gather the nation, the men, women and children… so that they will hear and learn and respect… and properly fulfill the Torah” (31:12).
Every seven years a grand gathering of all the Jews was held. The king read portions of the Torah to the assemblage and many words of truth and inspiration were taught. But why was it so important to have everyone there? Rashi tells us that the end of this verse describes why each person had to be present. The men came to learn Torah and the women to hear. What is the difference between these two goals?
Truth and Passion
There are two elements of Judaism that we develop in ourselves and pass on to our children. One is the truth and validity of the Torah on an intellectual level. The second is our passionate feelings and emotions towards serving Hashem with excitement and zest. Both are necessary in developing as a proper Jew.
The father represents the intellectual element; the mother the emotional. Certainly both elements are vital and are possessed by both genders. However, generally, each gender specializes in one. Thus, the father who is the intellectual aspect of Torah understanding comes to the gathering recharge his Torah learning. The mother, who teaches a love for Torah and mitzvos, comes to hear words of yiras shamayim, fear of heaven, in order to uplift her ever important emotional side! These are the dual roles here.
Why were the children required to be brought? Firstly, as stated explicitly in Chazal, it was to give reward to the parents for bringing them. Secondly, so that they too would have exposure to this great and amazing experience. We now understand why everyone was there, but one question remains. Why are the objectives expressed backwards in the verse? The verse begins by listing off the participants, stating, “men and women,” but in the following words which states the objectives, “to hear and learn” it places hearing, the woman’s specialty, before learning, the men’s domain? Why the change?
Here we have discovered a beautiful and fundamental truth. The women have the most important role in getting this job done! True, the learning of Torah is the most important mitzvah which is more valuable than anything else, but the passion, dedication and encouragement of the women is the only way that it will get done! When the Torah was originally offered to the Jews after they left Egypt it is interesting to note the order of its presentation. Shemos (19:3) “Ask the daughters of Yaakov and the men of Israel (if they will accept the Torah).” Why are the women mentioned first?! Because it was up to them! Just as in Egypt, the continuation of the Jewish nation was lead solely by the righteous women (Sotah 11b), so too here, if Torah was to be instilled into the hearts and souls of the Jews this would only be accomplished through the women’s undertaking and dedication.
The Chazon Ish was once asked to decide which school should take precedence. There were only enough funds to open up one Jewish school, either for the boys or for the girls. Which one should receive the available monetary endorsement? His response was immediate and clear. Open up a Bais Yaakov for girls, because without those girls no talmidey chachomim, Torah scholars, will be found! Every boy will fear to persist in the Bais Medrash (learning academy) knowing that if he remains there he will never find a young lady willing to marry him. Thus, the Chazon Ish, with great Torah insight, assured that Torah would continue. The lesson which this story illustrates is truly deep. The men are indebted to the women for their encouragement and their zeal to ensure that they live up to a high Torah standard!
Chazal say that a wife gets rewarded for all of her husband’s learning. This is very fair and understood! She caused him to learn and succeed. Indeed one of the greatest of our sages said it so eloquently. Rabbi Akiva stated (Kesubos 63a), “all of my Torah accomplishments and thus those of my students as well belong to the credit of my wife!” This is a glimpse into the greatness and importance of our nation’s leaders and builders, the women!
Song of Torah
ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה הזאת ולמדה את בני ישראל שימה בפיהם… (לא:יט).
“Now write down this song, teach it to the Jews and put it in their mouths…” (31:19).
A fascinating exchange takes place in Meseches Megillah (3a) that relates to our verse and expresses a beautiful message. Yehoshua was the leader of the Jews and before they were to overtake Yericho, Yehoshua did two things, he stopped the Karban Tamid from being offered and he did not study Torah. At that point an angel appeared to him holding a sword and Yehoshua realized that he had done something wrong… Yehoshua asked him, on what account did you come?” The angel replied, “עתה באתי, I have come now”. The Gemara takes this to mean that he was in trouble for not learning Torah.
The commentators struggle to find any explanation as to what was happening here in general and how the answer of Bitul Torah is seen in the angel’s words specifically?! Tosfos (there) throws out our above quoted verse as the solution. Our verse uses the same word, “עתה”, hence, both must be about Torah!
However, this just adds to the mystery? Additionally, the verse itself is perplexing, why does it use the mysterious word “song”, can’t it just use the word, “Torah” if that’s what it meant?!
I believe that a fundamental lesson is being illustrated. Yehoshua made a call that the Jews must go to sleep early to prepare for the expected battle of the next morning. There is no way to argue with that decision in the least bit; it is justified and understandable. However, the complaint against him was not the course of action per se, but rather, the attitude expressed towards Torah. Torah is the lifeblood and passion of the Jewish people. A Jew without Torah is a fish out of water, unfathomable, impossible. The angel delivered a message of disappointment and failure in this department.
The Jewish perspective on Torah is that it should flow and be incorporated in our lives just as a passionate song stirs our souls! This is the meaning of the verse’s allegory. More so, the word “עתה” means, “now”, pressing. Torah is seen as the water that we are eagerly thirsting for. With that perspective, Yehoshua could have done or expressed things differently.
Imagine if a child tells you, “you never have time for me”, or you hear it from a spouse or friend. Those words are a painful and powerful accusation. Some might fight it (and sometimes rightfully), some may say, “listen my schedule is packed, I’m doing the best that I can…” But perhaps the complaint is deeper. Perhaps the only solution is to find a way to change our attitude and approach towards this person. Show them that we really do love and care for them. This was the complaint against Yehoshua. Torah must be pressing, foremost and songlike.
Immediately, Yehoshua admitted his oversight and strived to passionately embrace the Torah. May we all find joy, meaning and closeness to Hashem through His magnificent song of Torah!
The verse (31:6) tells the Jews not to fear when going out to battle using the powerful expression of “חזקו ואמצו, be strong and uphold”. The Ibn Ezra comments that this encouragement is necessary after the Jews recognize that Hashem is caring for them and guiding them to success in battle. This is the simple reading of the verse itself.
That has always perplexed me. Why then should they need to strengthen their resolve if they see Hashem’s Guiding Hand so strongly?
The answer is simple though: we always need inspiration, especially at times of wonders and seeing the Hand of Hashem, we must make sure to internalize that experience and make it a part of our active cognizance (see also Tosfos Yom Tov [Avos 5:5]). At times of great inspiration, the danger of distraction and forgetfulness lurks. We must actively capture the lesson!
We are now approaching a most inspirational time of the year, the Yomim Noraim, let us strive to make this most exalting experience remain with us.
We learn in our parsha that the commandment of coming up to Hakel, the gathering of the Jews in Israel once every seven years, applied to men, women and children. The Gemara (Chagigah 3a) states that the men came to learn, the women to hear and why were the children commanded to be taken? To give reward to their parents for bringing them with. The question that must be asked is that if all of the men and women had to attend then they had no choice but to bring their children anyway?!
Indeed the Arizal (1534-1572) explains that this was precisely the point being made in the above quoted Gemara. The children had to come anyway and yet Hashem gave the parents a command to bring their children up in order to give them extra merits for bringing them. The last mishna in Makkos (3:16) states that Hashem wished to bring merits to the Jewish people and for this reason He gave them many opportunities to fulfill His will (mitzvos). This shows the love between us and Hashem.
If we read the exact words of the verse that commands the Jews to come to Hakel a most powerful lesson can be derived. Devarim (31:12) states: “Gather the nation, the men, women, children and converts… in order that they should hear, learn and fear Hashem and keep all of the the mitzvos in the Torah.” The four people listed (men, women, children, converts) can each be paired with the specific four rationales (hear, learn, fear, fulfill) discussed in the verse as to why they should come. All four reasons applied to each of the four categories of people however there is a stress on the main goal of each personality listed.
The men came to learn Torah, the women to hear and experience a deep connection with Torah. The children came for the benefit of learning to fear Hashem and to instill in them a sense of awe and love of Hashem. The converts came to learn how to live and fulfill the entire Torah law which they wished to become more familiar with.
Thus, it emerges that Hashem commanded the parents to bring their children in order to give the parents more reward for bringing them. Another benefit would be that the children would learn to fear Hashem and would become inspired by the momentous occasion and experience. They would learn about the great love that Hashem has for Klal Yisrael and about the amazing opportunity that Hashem provides us with to increase our merits and draw closer to Him.