Parsha Halacha

Parshat Ki Tavo / Shabbat Slichot

Rectifying Hakhel

How King Yoshiyahu Corrected the Folly of his Father Amon

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The Torah portion of Ki Tavo includes the blessings and curses that the Jewish people uttered at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival. The first of those curses was[1] “Cursed be any person who makes a sculptured or molten image, abhorred by G-d, a craftsman’s handiwork, and sets it up in secret…”

Amon Hid Moshe Rabeinu’s Torah Scroll

According to an early source,[2] King Amon, the son of King Menashe and father of King Yoshiyahu, was disturbed by this verse. Amon was an idolator who followed in the ways of his father Menashe. The Talmud says[3] that he burned a Torah scroll, brought idols into the Holy of Holies, caused spider webs to be spun over the altar (by neglecting the sacrifices), and consorted with his mother. During that era, every seven years, the king was expected to read the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) in front of the entire community during the Hakhel gathering which would take place on Chol HaMo’ed Sukkot in the year after Shemitah.[4] It was customary for the king to read from the Torah scroll which was written by Moshe Rabeinu which was usually kept in the Holy of Holies.[5] It was appropriate for them to use the Torah written by Moshe since the purpose of Hakhel was to inspire the Jewish people in a manner similar to the Sinai revelation in which Moshe played a big part.[6]

Amon was concerned that if at the upcoming Hakhel ceremony his subjects would hear him read the curse against making idols (mentioned above) as well as other verses forbidding idol worship, they would rebel against him since he was a devout pagan. In order to prevent this from happening, Amon hid the Sefer Torah that Moshe had written, hoping that without the proper Sefer Torah, the Hakhel ceremony would be cancelled.[7]

In fact, before the next Hakhel, Amon was assassinated by his servants.[8]

The Midrash says[9] that Amon planned to do teshuvah at the end of his life as his father Menashe had done.[10] This way he could have the “best of both worlds” (so to speak). In order to prevent him from doing so, G-d arranged for him to be killed earlier. This is reminiscent of the Mishnah[11] which one who sins with the intention of doing teshuvah is prevented from doing teshuvah.

Discovered by Yoshiyahu

The son of Amon, Yoshiyahu, was a very righteous king who returned to serving G-d (and led the Jewish people to do the same) more than any other king before or after him.[12]

In the 18th year of his reign, he initiated a refurbishment of the Beit HaMikdash. During this project, the Sefer Torah which had been hidden by his father was found.[13]

According to the Jerusalem Talmud,[14] when they opened the scroll, they found that it was rolled to the section of the curses uttered on Mount Eival. The verse that caught Yoshiyahu’s eyes was,[15] “Cursed be whoever will not uphold the words of this Torah and observe them, and all the people shall say Amen.” He felt that this was a personal message to him–that he needed to do more to establish the Torah among the Jewish people. He rent his garments, declaring עָלַי לְהָקִים – “It is incumbent upon me to establish it!”

The Talmud says[16] that the Torah of Moshe (known as the Torah of the Azarah since it was read in the courtyard of the Beit HaMikdash) was generally rolled to the beginning (Bereishit) which is why, when Yoshiyahu saw that it was rolled to the curses, he took it as an omen.

Why Was It Rolled to Ki Tavo?

In light of the above teaching that Amon hid the Sefer Torah because he did not want to read the curse against making idols, we can explain how it came to pass that it was rolled to that section. It is possible that Amon was reading from the Sefer Torah (perhaps he removed it from the Holy of Holies when he put the idol there) and when he got to the curses, he decided to hide it. As such, he didn’t bother rolling it to the beginning before hiding it; he simply closed it (leaving it at the column about the curses), covered it and hid it away.[17] (It is also possible that this was an inexplicable miracle. Either way it was certainly a message from Above.)

Yoshiyahu’s Hakhel

The verse describes how, after the Sefer Torah was discovered and after consulting with the Prophetess Chuldah, Yoshiyahu gathered all the people and read the Sefer Torah before them. As it says,[18] “The king went up to the House of the L-rd, together with all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and prophets—all the people, young and old. And he read to them the entire text of the covenant scroll (Sefer HaBrit) which had been found in the House of the L-rd.”

Although the verse does not say explicitly at what time of year this took place,[19]Rabbi Moshe of Coucy (one of the Tosafists) writes[20] that this was a Hakhel gathering. In fact, Rabbi Moshe says that this verse is the source from which the rabbis inferred that the king is the one who would read the Torah at the Hakhel gatherings.[21] This fits in with the Talmudic teaching (see footnote 8) that the story of Yoshiayahu finding the Torah took place in the year after Shmittah which is the year of Hakhel.

Fixing his Father’s Errors

Based on this teaching it seems that, by reading the Sefer Torah at Hakhel, Yoshiyahu was correcting the sin of his father Amon who hid the Sefer Torah specifically so that it not be read on Hakhel. The Talmud says that, in the merit of his son Yoshiyahu, Amon was saved from losing his share in the World to Come.[22] In light of the above we can understand this more clearly: Yoshiyahu was working on correcting the sins that his father did, thus saving him in the next world.

May We Merit to Hear the Torah Reading of King Moshiach in Hakhel this Coming Year!

[1] Deut. 27:15

[2] Drashot Ibn Shuab, Parshat Chayei Sarah. Rabbi Yehoshua ibn Shuab, a student of the Rashba, lived in Spain from 1280 to 1340 and transcribed a book of his sermons on the Parshiyot.

An earlier source for this account is found in Megilat Setarim by Rabbi Nissim Gaon. See Iynanut Besafrut HaGe’onim by Rabbi Shraga Abramson (Mossad HaRav Kook, Jerusalem 1974), page 286.

[3] Sanhedrin 103a

[4] Deut. 31:10-13

[5] See Rashi D.H. Sefer Ha’Azarah on Bava Batra 14a who writes, “The Sefer that Moshe wrote from which the king would read in the courtyard (of the Beit HaMikdash) in Hakhel and the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur.”

There is an opinion in the Sifri (Devarim 160) that indicates that the king would read from his own private Sefer Torah at Hakhel. See also Me’iri on Sanhedrin 21b. But most authorities say that the king would read from the Torah of Moshe.

[6] See Likutei Sichot vol. 34 page 187 and on.

[7] See Sefer HaChinuch, end of Mitzvah 612, “A king who does not want to read the Torah at Hakhel nullifies this mitzvah. His punishment is very great as this mitzvah (of Hakhel) is a strong pillar and a great honor (to G-d) in our religion.”

[8] II Kings 21:23

The 18th year of king Yoshiyahu was the year after Shmittah (see Megillah 14b with commentaries). Since Yoshiyahu became king when his father Amon was assassinated and Amon was only a king for two years, it is clear that Amon was not the king during a Hakhel year as he was assassinated four years before a Hakhel year.

An additional way to calculate this is that the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash took place in the year before Shmittah (Responsa of the Rambam 389). The destruction took place 53 years after Amon was assassinated. [Yoshiayhu was king for 31 years, his son Yehoyakim was the king for 11 years and his other son Tzidkiyahu was the king for 11 years as well (see Codex Judaic by Rabbi Mattis Kantor).] This would place Amon’s two-year reign in the middle of a seven-year Shmittah cycle rather than at the end of it.

[9] I cannot find the Midrash at this time, although I did see it in the past. It is quoted here.

[10] Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 10:9

[11] Yoma 8:9

[12] II Kings 23:25

[13] The commentaries quote an opinion that the Sefer Torah that Yoshiyahu found was the last surviving Torah scroll of the Jewish people, but they reject this opinion for various reasons. See here.

Others say that the Torah Yoshiyahu found was written by Moshe but that it was hidden by the Kohanim who feared that it would be damaged or destroyed by the wicked kings (Acahaz or Amon).

[14] Sotah 7:4

[15] Deut. 27:26

[16] Bava Batra 14b

[17] The Babylonian Talmud (Horayot 12a as explained by the Maharsha) is of the opinion that, when Yoshiyahu opened it, the Torah was rolled to a later verse in our Torah portion – “G-d will take you and the king that he will have established upon you to a foreign nation…” (Deut. 28:36). This verse is also not far from the verse which caused  Amon to hide the Torah which can also fit into this interpretation.

[18] II Kings 23:2

[19] The verse (ibid verse 21) writes that, after this story, Yoshiyahu commanded them to make Pesach. But it is possible that this took place after many months during which they destroyed the foreign altars, killed the idolatrous priests and burned their bones, as described in the text.

[20] Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, Mitzvot Asei, end of 230.

[21] In describing the Hakhel gathering, the Torah says (Deut. 31:11), “You shall read this Torah aloud in the presence of all Israel” and does not specify who should do the reading.

The Mishnah (Sotah 41a) says that the king would do the reading. The commentaries have different opinions as to why this is so:

·        The Tiferet Yisrael (on the Mishnah) says that, in fact, anyone could read the Torah. But that the rabbis established that the king do so as he is the most respected person in the nation.

·        The Minchat Chinuch (on mitzvah 612) suggests that it may be a Halacha LeMoshe MiSinai (an oral tradition) that the king should do this reading.

·        Alternately, the Minchat Chinuch says that perhaps the mitzvah was for the greatest person of the generation to do the reading which is usually the king. But if there was no king, others could do it.

·        The Chizkuni (cited in Likutei Sichot ibid page 188) says that in the verse Moshe was talking to Yehoshua and instructing him to read the Torah at Hakhel. Since Yehoshua had the status of a king, we can infer from this verse that it should be read by the king in subsequent generations.

·        As quoted above, the Semag writes that this is based on the verse about Yoshiyahu. Some understand that the Semag doesn’t mean that by Torah law the king is the one who must read at Hakhel. He means, rather, that we see from this event that it was customary for the king to do the reading (Yad David, quoted in Yalkut Bi’urim on the Meitivta Shas on Sotah 41a).

[22] Sanhedrin 104b

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a K’tivah VaChatima Tova!

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