By Ben Tinsley
Chabads throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex are celebrating Shnat Hakhel, which means the “year of gathering,” with Shabbat dinners and other programming.
During the era of the First and Second Temple, all Jews — from infants to the elderly and everyone in between — gathered there every seven years to hear the reading of the Torah by the King of Israel and be inspired to walk in the ways of God.
Deuteronomy 31:11-12 says, “When all Israel comes to appear before the Lord, your God, in the place He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears. Assemble the people: the men, the women, the children and the converts that are within your gates. In order that they hear, and in order that they learn and fear the Lord, your God, and they will observe all the words of this Torah.”
This ceremony originally took place at the Temple in Jerusalem during Sukkot following a Shmita year. Since 5775 was the most recent Shmita year, there currently is a yearlong opportunity (during this year, 5776) for Jews to gather together and observe Hakhel.
“Had the Temple still been standing this would be the year the gathering would take place,” Rabbi Menachem Block of Chabad of Plano said Monday. “We’ve been watching the calendar.”
The Biblical mitzvah of Hakhel was in effect only when all the Jewish people resided in Israel.
The late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, urged all Jews to conduct small and large Hakhel gatherings in synagogues and private homes — thereby fostering unity and increasing Torah learning, mitzvah observance and charity.
“The Rebbe taught us we have to put a greater emphasis this year of Hakhel on gathering Jews to inspire each other and to strengthen our commitment to Torah and mitzvahs,” Rabbi Block said. “When commandments are obscured they get buried in the annals of history … We are hoping to bring out awareness that this is the year of gathering, involve community and strengthen ourselves through the experience of the gathering.”
Rabbi Moshe Naparstek of Chabad of Dallas said Hakhel is the only event that has ever required the attendance of every single Jew.
“The first time it happened, the Jewish people were at Mount Sinai and every member was there,” Rabbi Naparstek said.
He explained that Jews got together every seventh year to relive the Mount Sinai experience.
Rabbi Block said the gathering is a global community event and Chabads of Dallas, Frisco and Plano are holding three dinners to celebrate it. Additional events are planned throughout the year.
Rabbi Block added that the gathering doesn’t have to be observed in only large groups. It also can take place with individuals or together with family.
The Shmita, incidentally, is the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah for the Land of Israel. It still is observed in contemporary Judaism.
Chapter 25 of the Book of Leviticus promises bountiful harvests to those who observe the Shmita, and describes its observance as a test of religious faith.
Rabbi Block said the principle of gathering and unity inspired by Hakhel is what strengthens the faith in all Jews.
“Having the most togetherness in the family means the family unit is much stronger,” he said. “The same thing applies to the community and to the Nation of Israel.”
Rabbi Block said he discussed Hakhel with his congregation during his Yom Kippur sermon and members were enthusiastic.
Rabbi Naparstek agreed that the point of Hakhel is to increase Torah observance and to foster an environment that would make God proud.
“That is the idea,” Rabbi Naparstek said. “Every community event at a synagogue mentions this idea and puts a little focus on what this is about — to try to foster more Torah observance, and more study with neighbors and family. Every person has the ability to make his or her own gathering.”
Upcoming Hakhel Events
Fri., Feb. 5
Chabad of Plano
Kabbalat Shabbat, Dinner and Torah Learning
6 p.m., Kabbalat Shabbat
7 p.m., Dinner
There is no charge for this dinner, which is generously being sponsored by Ed and Linda Matisoff, Stuart and Naomi Mishler and Drs. Velvel Kantor and Mordechai Segal.
For the first time ever, Rabbis Menachem Block and Yehudah Horowitz and Rebbetzins Rivkie Block and Esther Horowitz will each present a different layer of Torah interpretation, on the same Torah topic as part of a panel. RSVP by Feb. 4 at 972-596-8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lang Chabad Center
3904 W. Park Blvd., Plano
Chabad of Frisco
Friday Night Community Dinner
Rabbi Mendel and Mushkie Kesselman will welcome you to a Hakhel celebration that includes good food, good company and plenty of Shabbat spirit. This is a great opportunity to meet the Frisco community. There will be adult and kids’ programs. Cost is $18 for adults and $12 for children ages 3-15. RSVP at http://bit.ly/23qYOGA or call 214-460-7773.
Comfort Suites Hotel, 9700 Dallas Pkwy.
Corner of Main and the Dallas North Tollway, Frisco
Fri., Feb. 12
Israel-Themed Friday Night Dinner
Kabbalat Shabbat services followed by an Israel-themed dinner and Hakhel program. Cost is $25 for adults and $15 for children. RSVP by Feb. 8 to www.chabadofdallas.com/shabbat or 972-818-0770.
Chabad of Dallas
6710 Levelland Road, Dallas
Sun., Feb. 21
Global Unity Event
One hour of Jewish unity, Torah study and inspiration will be streamed live in a simultaneous broadcast to hundreds of communities around the globe. The broadcast will feature Mrs. Rachel Frenkel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet. The link to watch this event online has not been announced yet.