Jewish parenting. What could an event in the bible that took place every seven years have to say about that?

This week’s parasha, tells us about Hakhel, or the national assembly of the people which took place during the Succot after the Shemitta or Sabbatical year. 

“At the end of every seven years,… during the Festival of Succot, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place He will choose, you shall read this Torah before them in their hearing. Hakhel – Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the strangers in your towns—so they can listen and learn to revere the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this Torah.” (Devarim 31: 10-12)

It was an awesome experience. The Talmud explains that the king himself would read the Torah in the presence of the population. It reaffirmed the Torah that had been received on Mount Sinai.

The Torah stresses that the children need to be present. Why? Rashi (quoting Talmud Chagiga 3) explains: “in order to give reward to those who bring them.”

It is apparent that we are talking about children who would be too young to understand what is going on. This is not the normal way of Chinuch or educating children into keeping mitzvot. Usually, the rule is age appropriateness. For example, there is no value in giving a small child a lulav to shake.

Yet, with the mitzva of Hakhel, parents were required to bring small children who were too young to understand the significance of a national assembly. One might have thought that small children would be a distraction or disturbance. Why not arrange a crèche for the Hakhel ceremony so that the adults and youth can gain the maximum from the experience?

Rabbi Nathan Adler (Germany, 1741-1800 – Chief Rabbi Nathan Adler was named after him) explains that exposing even small children to the aura and drama of the Hakhel assembly is so important that it overrides the distraction that the parents may experience. Obviously, we are not referring to a scenario where children are left to run wild. The parents were expected to bring their children and be engaged with them so that something of the Hakhel atmosphere would be imbibed.

Rabbi Adler is pointing out that being a Jewish parent means there are times where one needs to be selfless. There are occasions that we need to give up on our own experience in order that our children can grow. Indeed, in so doing, we grow with them.