The Gang’s All Here

It’s very rare that the entire Jewish nation gathers for an event. Once every seven years the entire nation is enjoined to appear before the king in Yerushalayim. In our modern state, we try to recreate this event called HAKHEL, when the President of the Medina reads excerpts from the book of Devarim at the Kotel during Sukot in the year after Shmitta, in other words later this year. But it’s rare, and therefore we have a right to ask: Why must the entire nation gather to hear Moshe after he has descended from Mount Sinia with the second Tablets, at the beginning of our Torah reading.  

There are two popular approaches to this question. The first, and I believe the most famous, is that the command to build the portable Temple of the desert must be renewed after the relationship with God has been damaged by the sin of the Golden Calf. There must be no confusion, God still desires to dwell within our midst, in spite of this act of disloyalty. 

The other well-known answer is about the importance of Shabbat. Before Moshe renews the command to build the Mishkan, He explains that Shabbat must be observed. Just like the Mishkan is God’s place in space; Shabbat is God’s place in time. This announcement also taught two other critically important ideas. First, that we learn the prohibited activities (the 39 MELACHOT) from the activities in the Mishkan. And, as important as the Mishkan is to our relationship with God, we nevertheless are enjoined not to work on it during the Shabbat. 

However, there are two other ideas that I’d like to share. The first is really quite straightforward, and is presented as a Midrashic concept by Rabbeinu Bechaye. He notes that when the Jews gathered against Aharon with their terrible demand for an idol to replace Moshe, the verse records: The people GATHERED (V’YIKAHEL) against Aharon and said to him, ‘Come make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moshe who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him (Shmot 32:1). 

Rabbeinu Bechaye believes that the only way to undo the damage of that V’YAKHEL, mass gathering is with another mass gathering to repent for the horrible crime. The TESHUVA process must be on the same scale as the crime.  

There is another idea which I find very moving in the writings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Moshe Rabbeinu had begged God to forgive the Jewish nation. And declared that if the Jewish nation isn’t saved, that he would prefer to be erased from the Divine rolls (32:32). Moshe had humbled himself in favor of every Jew, from the highest to the lowest. In this way, binding himself to very fabric of the Jewish people. He had become the paradigm of the faithful shepherd. 

The Rebbe then explains that this was the meaning of, ‘and Moshe assembled them all.’ Moshe wanted to ‘gather, unite, bind himself with all of Israel, even the least of the least.’ The Rebbe then explains that this idea is contained in the following verse, ‘They have entirely withdrawn; together’ (Tehillim 53:4). The Rebbe explains that even when I see a Jew who is totally withdrawn and distant from God, as is described in Psalm 53, nevertheless the ultimate cure for this disastrous situation is to be YACHAD, together. 

This is the role of Jewish leaders. We should only put our trust in leaders who work to bind us all together. Any leader who rejects even a small portion of the nation should be rejected by us.  

The Shnei Luchot HaBrit (Reb Yeshayahu HaLevi Horowitz), I believe is describing something similar when he wrote: When Moshe gathered the nation and doubled the language by saying ‘gather’ and ‘the entire community of Yisrael’, he was alluding to the concept of K’NESSET YISRAEL (the entire community of Israel). The true power of the Jewish nation is derived from this unity, as it says, ‘In assemblies bless God, the Lord, O you who are from the ever-flowing stream of Israel (Tehillim 68:27). 

Both Rebbe Nachman and the Shnei Luchot HaBrit are pushing a very similar agenda: the ultimate holiness of the Jewish nation. This immense sanctity can only be accessed when the entire nation is unified. We Jews must do everything in our power to keep us united and connected to each other.  

Moshe was teaching us the importance of each Jew caring for every other Jew. It’s sad that it took a national disaster to raise our awareness of this reality. But if we just learn the lesson, the future is unlimited. 

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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