Moshe describes the mitzvah of Hakel, one of the final mitzvot of the Torah, in the following way:
“Every seven years, at the conclusion of the Shmittah year, on Sukkot, when all Israel comes to appear before your God in the place that He will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel. Gather the people—men, women, children and the strangers in your communities—that they may hear and learn to fear your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching.” (Devarim 31: 10-12)
There are numerous other more fitting sections in which Moshe could have placed this mitzvah. For example, the subjects of Shmittah and Sukkot were already covered by Moshe in Parshat Re’eh; the laws of the instruction and guidance of kings and leaders were enumerated in Parshat Shoftim; and the themes of fearing God and hearing His Torah are found throughout Moshe’s preceding message to Bnei Yisrael. So, why is Hakel placed here, all the way at the end of Moshe’s farewell speech?
If we look more closely at the specifications of the time during which this mitzvah is performed, we can readily recognize a common theme. The specifically established period for the actualization of this mitzvah is 1) on Sukkot, 2) immediately after the conclusion of the Shmittah year, and 3) right before the winter season. All three of these ‘times’ are clearly characterized by periods of transition into an uncertain reality.
- During the holiday of Sukkot, the people are commanded to leave their permanent, secure and protective houses, and sojourn outside, in the elements, within temporary structures of thatch and wood.
- The year after Shmittah – a year in which farmers were not allowed to actively till, sow or harvest – is one of deep uncertainty. Without having ‘prepared’ for the upcoming year, how much food would have been gathered? Would they survive until the next crops grew? This challenge for their immediate survival would weigh heavily upon them.
- Hakel occurs right on the cusp of seasonal change: the transition from the plenty and warmth of summer to the bleak and bitter winter. The crops have all been collected and stored; this, their food, which they could only now hope would be enough to sustain them through the dark and desolate months ahead.
Any one of these daunting transitions would have been enough to challenge one’s confidence, but with the confluence of all three of these factors at one time – it would surely have served to unnerve even the most hopeful of the nation.
It is at that precise period that Moshe commands the nation to convene and hear the testimony of their God; the declaration of promise that no matter how bleak the future looks (x3!) and no matter how difficult the ensuing transitions seem like they will be (x3!), God is there to see them through. The Mishnah relates that almost all of Parshat Devarim and Va’etchanan were read at Hakel, along with the second paragraph of Kriyat Shema from Parshat Ekev. Rich and powerful texts that include Moshe’s review of the entire nation’s history, and the guarantees God made to His people: the fulfilment of promises made, and the declaration of the future promise of protection, devotion, and prosperous survival during their lives in the Land.
And why was this mitzvah placed here? Because, it is in this same parsha that Moshe officially appoints Yehoshua as the next leader – one of the greatest and most daunting transitions Bnei Yisrael would ever have to face. Moshe had been present at their inception as a nation, facilitated the destruction of their previous slave-masters, led them through the sea to their salvation, and interceded on their behalf to provide food, water, protection and survival. He then delivered their Torah, guided them in the proper service of their new God, and finally led them through the desert to the borders of the Promised Land. It is at this moment that this source and symbol of certainty, security and familiarity was stepping down; appointing a new leader, who would take them into an entirely new land, to begin an entirely new existence. So it is at this most unsettling and uncertain of moments that through the mitzvah of Hakel, the confidence in a continued Divine attention and protection was guaranteed – for then, and forever.
 See Note #3
 Sefer HaChinuch numbers this mitzvah number 612, and Rambam numbers it as 611.
 This interpretation follows the Rabbi’ opinion that Hakel occurs the year after Shmitthah. The Torah itself says, however, “במועד שנת השמיטה”, “in the time period of Shmittah”, which seems to imply that Hakel occurred during the Shmittah year. Either approach, however, still establishes the ‘transition’ theme: either coming out of a year of the unsettling inability to actively sow and harvest or entering into one.