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The Nature of Sukkot in the Year After Shemittah

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Oct 7, 2022

The Nature of Sukkot in the Year After Shemittah



In the times of the Beit HaMikdash, the holiday of Sukkot that we are now approaching would have been celebrated with a once in seven-year mitzvah, that of Hakhhel, the national reading of the Torah by the king. 


Moshe commanded them, saying: After seven years have ended, on the holy day of the Shemittah year, during the Sukkot festival; When all of Yisroel comes to be seen in the presence of Hashem, your God, in the place that He chooses, you shall read this Torah facing all of Yisroel for them to hear. Assemble the people—the men and the women and the infants, and your convert who is in your towns; in order for them to hear and in order for them to learn to fear Hashem, your God, and they will make sure to fulfill all the statements of this Torah. And their children who did not understand will hear and will learn to fear Hashem, your God, all the years that you are living on the land that you are crossing the Yardein there to inherit. (Devarim 31:10-13, Metsudah modified)


According to some (see Abarbanel), this ceremony was performed every seven years to ensure it would generate the proper excitement. As Rambam (Chagigah 3:6) notes, Hakhel commemorates the revelation and covenant at Sinai. If this reading of the Torah is more than more study, it makes sense that making the event rare will help generate the proper attitude.


Some commentaries explain why it is not just every seven years but specifically on sukkot. Some note that the temporary nature of the sukkah reminds people of their vulnerability and thus makes them more conducive to opening their hearts to the messages of Hakhel. (Kli Yakar) Abarbanel suggests that it is the power of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur and the changes people undergo on those days that set the groundwork for Hakhel. Ralbag notes that as Sukkot is the harvest festival, people are as materially wealthy as they will be during the year. Specifically at such times, there is a danger of forgetting God, and thus Hakhel comes to protect one from this. 


However, several commentaries explain that not only is that a reason for Hakhel to be only every seven years, nor is simply logical to be on Sukkot, but rather note that Sukkot of the year after Shemitta has a different identity that makes it conducive to HakhelRav Hirsch takes this prospectively. The Torah’s agricultural cycle is one of seven years. After a year of leaving the fields to lie fallow, Sukkot of the eight year begins the new agricultural cycle. Thus, it is the proper time to set the tone for the economy, to remind the people that we are supported by the kindness of God and not just our own hard work. Others, such as Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, focus retrospectively. Normally, Sukkot, as mentioned above, was the time period where people were most confident as they had just harvested much of their food for the year. However, after Shemitta, people were in a precarious situation as there was nothing to harvest. Specifically, this non-harvest Harvest Festival created the proper mindset for people to rededicate themselves to God, to remember the most important things in life, and the centrality of God in their daily lives. Kli Yakar adds that normal economic pursuits can lead to competition and fighting. The year of Shemitta, in which people did not work their fields, allowed those wound to heal, for people to rebuild relationships and live together in peace. Only with such a backdrop would Hakhel be successful.


While we do not currently perform the mitzvah of Hakhel, we can take the opportunity of Sukkot post Shemitta to celebrate a different kind of holiday, setting the tone for how we do business, how we relate to others, and how we see God in every part of our lives. 

Venue: Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah


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Learning on the Marcos and Adina Katz YUTorah site is sponsored today by Ruth Peyser Kestenbaum and Miriam & Alan Goldberg to mark the tenth yahrtzeit of their father, Irwin Peyser, Harav Yisroel Chaim ben R' Dovid V' Fraidah Raizel Peyser and by the Weinberg and Klepfish families l'ilui nishmas Zevy Weinberg, Refael Zev Avraham ben HaRav Moshe and in memory of Rabbi Dr. Allen Goldstein, Harav Avraham ben Menachem Moshe A"H by his family