Nitzavim/Vayelech – Do As I Say – Uh, Rather As I Do
In Parshat Vayelech, the second of the two Parshiot we read this Shabbat, the Mitzvah of Hakhel is instructed. This is Mitzvah #612 as they appear in the Torah, with only one Mitzvah follwoing it, the Mitzvah for every Jew to write (or have written) a Torah scroll. After every Shemitta cycle, during Sukkot following the seventh year, the king reads out portions of the book of Deuteronomy to the multitudes of the nation of Israel. “Gather the nation, the men, women and children as well as the proselyte among you, in order that they should hear and in order that they will learn and revere the Lord your G-d and they will observe all the words of this Torah. (31:12)
Rashi quotes the Talmud, questioning why the young children need attend this gathering. The adults, and even the older children, have what to learn from this experience. The words of the verses speak to them. But why is it necessary to have the young children participate in this great gathering? If anything, the children will prevent the parents from giving their full focus to the lesson at hand. “Mommy I’m hungry, can I have another cookie?” “Chaim pinched me!” “Owch! Sheina stepped on my toe.” You get the picture.
The Talmud states that the reason the Torah commands bringing the children is to confer merit upon those who bring them. In other words, parents get bonus points for schlepping their children along with them instead of arranging for babysitting. To provide this opportunity for bonus points, the Torah commanded this as a Mitzvah.
The Kli Yakar, in his comment to this Mitzvah, struggles to accept this. The children become objects of a Mitzvah! Essentially they are burdens, according to the response of the Talmud. Would it be meritorious to schlepp heavy rocks as well, simply because it makes traveling more difficult? How about hiring a bulldozer to chop up the road ahead, making travel very bumpy and uncomfortable? Surely if one continues despite obstacles in the path he has greater merit than one who has a smooth ride.