Hak’heil et haam*
Men, women, and children, too
To hear the Torah
Vayeilech is the shortest portion in the Torah – just one chapter consisting of 30 verses. But it includes an important commandment, part of which is included at the beginning of the Torah service in Mishkan T’filah, the Reform Movement’s siddur.
Every seventh year, the year set for remission, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before Adonai your God in the place that God will choose, you shall read this Torah aloud in the presence of all Israel. Assemble the people, men, women and children, and the strangers in your cities, to hear, to learn, to revere Adonai your God, to observe faithfully the words of this Torah. And let their children, who do not yet know it, hear, that they, too, may learn to revere Adonai your God as long as they live in the land that you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.
The Torah commands the public reading just once every 7 years, during the sabbatical year when the people are gathered for the Sukkot offering. But the inclusion in our Siddur of part of these verses (highlighted above) as an introduction to the regular Torah service (Mishkan T’fllah, pg. 363), shows that this commandment remains meaningful in our day. We hear the Torah not once every seven years, but at least once every seven days, “to hear” and “to learn”.
Two other things worth nothing about these verses. First, although many of the commandments in Torah are the obligation only of men (at least, according to more traditional interpretations) this one is explicitly meant for everyone – men, women, children, even the strangers in our midst. That is unusual, although not unique, in the text.
Also, the words “Assemble the people” make clear this is to be done as a community. We don’t “hear” words of Torah by reading them alone from a Chumash. These words are meant to be read and studied with others in our community.
Thousands of years ago, Moses knew that words of Torah were meant to be heard, and explored, with a community. Simply reading from the Chumash is not enough.
Your community can be the local synagogue or a small chavurah. I happen to think that’s ideal – in person, face-to-face struggles with the text. But even if it’s just a collection of Twitter accounts, Facebook pages or blogs which you read and where you share your own thoughts, the important thing is to listen – and learn – together.
*Hak’heil et haam = Assemble the people
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