It is most befitting to speak of the Mitzvah of Hakheil, which would be fulfilled this coming Chol HaMoed Sukkot, during the year immediately following the Shemitah year, if the Beit HaMikdash remained standing. Hakheil is a unique Mitzvah in that “HaAnashim, VeHaNashim, VeHaTaf,” “the men, the women and the children” are to make an appearance in the Beit HaMikdash to fulfill this Mitzvah (Devarim 31:12). All must ascend to Yerushalayim to hear the Jewish King read from Sefer Devarim.
As “Taf” is a general term for children, we must clarify the Torah’s intention in using it. Does the term “Taf” encompass all children, including very young toddlers, or does it refer only to children with a certain degree of intellectual ability and understanding? Ramban (31:13) asserts that “Taf” are the children who have the ability to ask questions, those approaching the age of Chinuch. Although these children will not completely understand the Pesukim that are being read, they will certainly appreciate the Mitzvot and even the rebuke found in Sefer Devarim if their parents guide them by explaining the difficult concepts.
However, Ramban concedes that his understanding of the word “Taf” is inconsistent with the following statement of Chazal regarding Hakheil: “HaAnashim Lilmod VeHaNashim Lishmo’a VeHaTaf… Litein Sechar LeMeviaihen,” “The men come to learn, the women to hear, and the children to give reward to those who bring them” (Chagigah 3a). From Chazal’s words, it appears as though “Taf” refers to infants and toddlers, children who will gain almost nothing from the experience of Hakheil; despite this, the parents are rewarded for bringing their children. If the children don’t stand to gain anything from the experience of Hakheil, why does Hashem reward their parents for bringing them?
This question can be answered quite practically. Indeed, the infants and toddlers will gain nothing from Hakheil, but they certainly cannot be left home alone when their parents go to the Beit HaMikdash. The strollers, the attendance of so many children, and the need to carry them when they become irritable all contribute to the reward that the parents receive for coming to study Sefer Devarim. This answer is in agreement with Ben Hei Hei’s statement that “Lefum Tza’ara Agra,” “according to the suffering is the reward” (Avot 5:23).
It is possible however, that Chazal felt that the parents’ reward for bringing their young children to Hakheil is of a different form. Although the infants in attendance may gain very little from the experience, the mere fact that the Torah enjoins the parents to bring their children will serve to set the stage for the parents’ ultimate reward. The most gratifying reward for a Jewish parent is to see his or her children embracing the Torah lifestyle. The bringing of the children is a reminder to the parents that the ultimate reward of seeing their children embrace Judaism will have a direct correlation to the effort and energy that they expend in inculcating the lessons of Sefer Devarim into them. We can take almost any mundane experience and turn it into one with Chinuch value. From when our children are very young and through adulthood, their Avodat Hashem all depends on our attitude.