In Order That They May Hear

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Translated by Kaeren Fish
"Moshe commanded them, saying: At the end of seven years… gather the people, the men, and the women, and the children… in order that they may hear, and in order that they may learn and fear the Lord your God, and observe to perform all the words of this Torah… and their children, who do not know, shall hear and learn to fear the Lord your God all the days that you live upon the land." (Devarim 31:10-13)
"In order that they may hear, and in order that they may learn" – who is supposed to hear, and who is supposed to learn? The Gemara (Chagiga 3a) cites Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya:
"The men come to learn, the women come to hear, the children – for what purpose do they come? To give reward to those who bring them."
This explanation draws a distinction between the men and the women when it comes to the 'hak'hel' ceremony: the women come to listen to the reading, while the men come to learn.
Ramban interprets the verse on its plain level, with no distinction between men and women:
"In order that they may hear and in order that they may learn – men and women [alike], for they too [the women] hear and learn to fear God."
The matter of hearing, which includes also the men, seems straightforward: no one can learn without first hearing.
However, there is another aspect to it. The Rambam (Hilkhot Chagiga 3:6) teaches, concerning the commandment of 'hak'hel':
"And converts, who are not familiar [with the Torah] must prepare their hearts and to listen with attention, to hear, with fear and awe and trembling joy, like the day when it was given at Sinai. Even very learned sages, who know the entire Torah, are obligated to hear, with exceedingly great concentration. And whoever is unable to hear directs his heart towards this reading, since the Torah stipulates this only to strengthen the true faith, and he should view himself as though he had been commanded [the Torah] right then, and as though he had heard it from God Himself."
Thus, hearing indicates the experiential, emotional aspect. This is manifest in the verses: "Gather the people... and learn to fear the Lord your God all the days." The expressions here parallel what we learn concerning the eating of the ma'aser sheni in Jerusalem:
"And you shall eat before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses to cause His Name to dwell there… in order that you will learn to fear the Lord your God all the days." (Devarim 14:23)
Both commandments emphasize continuity – "all the days." The reason for this is simple: both at the hak'hel ceremony, in which Am Yisrael gathers together, hears, and internalizes the words of the Torah; and in performing the commandment of ma'aser sheni, where a person comes to the place which God has chosen as His abode – a person feels some sort of emotional experience; this experience affects him and has an emotional effect that lasts. The internalization that comes through hearing, during hak'hel – in the words of the Rambam, 'to hear with exceedingly great concentration' – causes an emotional effect that exerts its influence forever.
The same idea applies to the essence of a ben Torah. For a person who studies Torah at a yeshiva, it is not sufficient that he fulfill the clause of "in order that they may learn." As he sits in the beit midrash, in a sort of individual experience of the hak’hel ceremony, he must hear, sense, and feel the experiential dimension of the encounter with God, "in order that he will learn to fear God all the days" – in order for this dimension to continue to exert its influence upon him even after he has left the beit midrash, in both his personal and family life. As the verse teaches, "And their children, who do not know, will hear and learn to fear…"
This depends on three inter-related conditions. The first is that the person is aware of his emotional aspect and is willing and ready to give expression to it in his Divine service. Second, he must sense this experiential side of his connection with God Himself. Third, he must sense this dimension in his connection with God's words, finding expression in his Torah study. When a person studies Gemara, he must feel the emotional, experiential aspect of studying God's word – regardless of the content that he is studying.
A true ben Torah is not just someone who knows how to learn, to create, to arrive at new insights, and who is known as a scholar. A true ben Torah, in addition to all of this, senses the experiential aspect of his study, of the service and love of God.