Moshe commanded the people of Israel to have the Torah read to them every seventh year on the first day of Chol Hamoed of Succot.The king was to read the Torah publicly to all the people, men, women, and children, as well as the stranger within their cities.R’ SR Hirsch wrote that at this public reading by the king, the people would renew their ancient commitment to hear learn and fear G-d.
R’ Eli Munk quoted Josephus who wrote that this law provided an opportunity to publicly warn the entire nation not to violate the words of the Torah. No one could claim ignorance of the law to justify a wrongful act. Everyone heard the laws and their penalties and everyone was aware of the eternal truth of the Divine words.
Rambam emphasised the all-encompassing nature of the mitzvah and even the deaf and those who did not understand Hebrew were to concentrate their attention and listen closely, as on the day the Torah was given at Sinai. Even great sages were obliged to pay close attention.
This law applied to Joshua in his future role as leader of Israel, and he last carried out the mitzvah at the end of his life. King Josiah also did it when the Torah was rediscovered during a restoration of the Temple. Ezra did it for the generation that saw the return of the exiles from Babylon.
R’ Jonathon Sacks wrote that Hakhel belongs to the unique form of politics, Covenental Politics, which involve ideas of duty and obligation. The nation’s fate depends upon honouring the terms laid down by its founders.
R’ Sacks likened the assembly Hakhel to the American Presidential inaugural address when the president recapitulates the nation’s history, speaking of the principles and ideals on which it is based, reviewing the challenges the nation faces if it is to stay faithful to its ideals. R’ Sacks wrote that Moshe understood that a nation that loses its sense of purpose cannot survive. He wrote that free societies today are under threat, and if they are to survive, they need to find a contemporary equivalent of Hakhel.