Parshat Vayelech teaches us about the mitzvah of Hakhel, which requires all men, women and children to gather and hear the king read from the Torah once every seven years (see Devarim 31:12). Yet, while it is clear why both men and women were required to attend this event, what is less obvious is the rationale for requiring the attendance of children.
While a number of explanations have been offered to explain this inclusion, I particularly like the answer provided by Rabbi Yosef Chayim of Bagdad, otherwise known as the Ben Ish Chai (Ben Ish Chai, Derushim).
According to the Ben Ish Chai, the reason why children were required to attend the Hakhel ceremony was to remind people how to approach the Torah and live a Torah life. As he explains, children are simple, and do not deceive; they are not embarrassed to say what they need and when they enjoy something they show it. Therefore, the presence of children at the ceremony taught the adults how to approach Torah and live a Torah life – with honesty, simplicity, and positivity.
Sadly, all too often we forget the need to approach Torah with an up-beat attitude, and far too many of us approach Torah ideas with cynicism. However, as the Ben Ish Chai points out, the way we enhance our relationship with our Father is by bringing a youthful spirit to our divine worship, proving this from a verse in the book of Hoshea which reads: “when Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt” (Hoshea 11:1), meaning that it was the youthful attributes of the Bnei Yisrael that led to their redemption.
Now that we have begun a new year, let’s try and grow younger with our age and bring a youthful energy to our Judaism. And if you’re not sure what that means, spend a little time with a toddler, observe how they approach life with honesty, simplicity, and positivity, and then think about how you too can serve God in this way.