"Gather the nation together, the men, the women, the children, and the
stranger who is within your gates, in order that they hear and in order
that they learn, that they fear HaShem your G-d, and that they guard, in
order to perform, all the words of this Torah." [31:12]
The Mitzvah of Hakhel, gathering the entire nation together to hear a
public Torah reading, afforded all Jews the opportunity to come together to
listen to the words of the Torah. Yet in this mitzvah, we find an apparent
contradiction -- the verse goes out of its way to specify that the small
children, "haTaf," should come to participate as well. This mitzvah is
supposed to offer us all the opportunity to come together and to listen
carefully, to learn, but we are also supposed to bring our kids.
Any parent can tell you that if you want the adults to listen carefully,
then you should be telling them to leave their children at home! Small
children disturb the adults, preventing them from paying attention and
listening properly. So why should the "Taf," little children who won't
understand anyway, not only be tolerated, but invited?
In the Talmud (Chagiga 3a), Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah asks this question.
"The children -- for what purpose are they coming?" And he answers: "In
order to give reward to those who bring them." Rabbi Nosson Adler explains:
children are extremely impressionable, as we know. It may be true that they
will not fully understand, but simply being in such a sanctified
environment, and seeing so many people brought together for the purpose of
hearing the Torah, will have a deep and lasting impact in their hearts. The
Torah says that it is worth the sacrifice of one's personal growth in order
to guide one's children towards Torah and good deeds. Should anyone fear
that they will "lose out" by bringing their children, the Torah requires
that they come -- and Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah explains that the Torah is
promising extra reward to their parents.
Educating children takes tremendous effort and requires sacrifices --
sacrifices of both money and time. Certainly, it is not appropriate to
bring young children to every event, or to synagogue in a situation where
they will indeed disturb the services. But at other times, we need to weigh
the impact upon our children if we do bring them, to see, to hear, and to
listen, even if they do not fully understand.
What does the Torah tell us? That when a person sacrifices of him or
herself for the sake of the children, he or she will receive extra!