1. A gathering of Jewish children is a good and holy thing at any time. G-d has great joy when He sees Jewish children gathered together and conducting themselves as real brothers, as stated: “‘You shall love your fellowman as yourself’ — Rabbi Akiva said this is a great principle in Torah.” This is especially so when the gathering is associated with the Minchah prayer (Berachos 6b); and following this, Torah study, having just recited the verses from Scripture and sayings from our Sages; and following that, at the end of the gathering, the giving of tzedakah. Through this, the gathering is associated with the three pillars on which the world stands (Torah, prayer, tzedakah), “world” referring to the world at large, and the ‘small world’ of each Jew. This is particularly true since the purpose of this gathering is to make good resolutions in future conduct fitting for a member of Tzivos Hashem, and to influence one’s friends in the same direction.
The above is relevant to all gatherings of Tzivos Hashem at any time. In addition, the particular time at which any gathering takes place provides special directives; and simultaneously, provides extra strength and blessing from G-d to fulfill those directives fully. Such directives are fulfilled with joy, as stated “The Jews should rejoice in their Maker” — Jews rejoice with G-d and all G-dly things (Torah and mitzvos). Likewise, “G-d rejoices in His works” — G-d rejoices with that which He created, and especially with Jews, who are “the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride” — especially when G-d sees that Jews utilize their special status (“branch of My planting”) to rise ever higher in Judaism.
The special distinction of this gathering is that it is taking place on the first day following Shabbos parshas Yisro, in which we learn of the giving of the holy Torah to the Jewish people. The giving of the Torah has special significance to Jewish children, as our Sages tell us, that when G-d requested guarantors that the Jews would learn Torah and fulfill mitzvos, G-d only gave the Torah when Jews said “Our children will be our guarantors.” It was the decision of the children to learn Torah and fulfill mitzvos which was the only acceptable guarantor to G-d, and in whose merit the Torah was given to each and every Jew for all generations. Today, which immediately follows the Shabbos on which we read about the giving of the Torah, gives new life to Jewish children’s knowledge that they are the guarantors in whose merit the Torah was given — and this renewed knowledge gives added impetus to increase in their Torah study and performance of mitzvos.
In the light of the above, each of you should, with great joy, increase in your diligence in Torah study, and your meticulousness in the fulfillment of mitzvos. Through this you will merit additional blessings from G-d in all your needs, beginning with blessings for success in Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvos with health and happiness. Similarly, blessings for success in influencing your environment, beginning with your parents, that they also should increase in their Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvos.
2. There is another important matter, which is connected with the 15th of Shevat (Tu B’Shevat). The 15th of Shevat is the “Rosh Hashanah for trees.” Our Sages explain that the “Rosh Hashanah for trees” has relevance for Jews, based on the verse “For man is a tree of the field” — each man is compared to a “tree of the field.” A tree is constantly growing, and its purpose is to produce fruit which contains seeds which in turn produces trees and fruit. This is the purpose of a tree: to produce fruit forever.
The analogy to a Jew is that each Jew is a “branch of My planting,” especially a Jewish child, who is similar to a seed and young shoot which is constantly growing. The production of fruit refers to the mitzvos and good deeds which a Jewish child does; and these fruits are such that they contain seeds from which in turn new trees and fruit will come forth. That is, to influence others to conduct themselves according to Torah, to the extent that they too will be trees who produce fruit and seeds from whom new trees and fruit will come forth for all succeeding generations.
Since each Jew, man and child, is a “branch of My planting,” a “tree of the field” in the field of G-d, it is understood that G-d “searches his mind and heart” to see if a person is fulfilling his mission as a “branch of My planting.” This mission is to grow from day to day in matters of Judaism.
In addition to the above lesson from the 15th of Shevat (to grow as a tree and to give fruit), it is a custom on the 15th of Shevat to eat fruit, especially those fruits with which Eretz Yisrael is praised. Through this, the bond between Jews and Eretz Yisrael is strengthened, and the remembrance of Eretz Yisrael inspires Jews to increase in Torah and mitzvos. For every good action in Torah and mitzvos brings closer the future redemption of Jews from exile, when all Jews will go to Eretz Yisrael.
3. Besides the fact that this gathering follows the 15th of Shevat, it is also a preparation to the coming days. It is now within 30 days of Purim, and thus this gathering also serves as a preparation to the gathering that will be held then.
There is special emphasis in the festival of Purim on the gathering of Jews, especially Jewish children. The miracle of Purim occurred after Mordechai’s call to all Jews to come together (“Gather together all the Jews”) and to conduct themselves according to Torah. The Midrash states that Mordechai gathered together thousands of Jewish children and learned Torah with them; and when G-d heard the voices of the Jewish children, all the decrees against the Jews were annulled. Indeed, the reverse happened: “For the Jews there was light in and joy, gladness and honor.” Even in the time of exile the Jews were in a position of light and joy, including receiving honor and respect from all the gentile nations around them — who saw that even when Jews are “scattered and spread among the nations” they are still “one people” through their bond with the “one Torah” given by the “One G-d.”
The preparations to Purim start from Rosh Chodesh Adar, and even before that, from Shabbos Mevorchim Adar. Hence, today being the first day of the week in which Rosh Chodesh Adar is blessed, it is the fitting time to encourage and to remind people about gathering together Jewish children in association with Purim. In plain terms, every Jewish child should already begin to prepare for Purim by increasing in Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvos in the manner of “Gather together all the Jews” — to gather together to strengthen and inspire each other in matters of Torah and mitzvos. This should be done amidst “light and joy,” thus illuminating one’s environment with the light of Judaism.
When Jewish children conduct themselves in the above manner, all decrees against Jews are annulled, and to the extent that “For the Jews there was light and joy, gladness and honor.” Through this the true and complete redemption is hastened, with the coming of our righteous Mashiach now.
All this is accomplished through Jewish children infusing enthusiasm and life in all things Jewish to those around them, consonant with the special lesson derived from the daily portion of the weekly parshah. At the beginning of this week’s parshah, Mishpotim, it states (21:1): “And these are the ordinances which you shall set before them,” on which Rashi comments “as a table which is set and prepared for eating before a person.” This concept has special relevance for Jewish children learning Torah — that their Torah study must be in the manner of “set before them” — “as a table set ... for a person.”
The word for “you shall set” in Hebrew is “tosim” which has an allusion to the word “Simah,” meaning treasure (Yerushalmi, Avodah Zorah 2:7). All Jews, including children, know that the Torah is a precious treasure given by G-d, and therefore their study of it and fulfillment of its mitzvos is done with great joy.