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Home > Religion > Torah Portion > Ha'azinu


Deuteronomy 32:1-52        Haftorah: Samuel II 22:1-51
Shabbat, October 7, 2000 - 8 Tishrei 5761

Torah Outreach Program

Moshe's work is done. He has charged his folk, bid them farewell, and installed his successor- all on this last day of his life, according to Rashi. Unfettered, his soul so close to God, he now delivers his epic poetic swan song, Ha'azinu.

Moshe foresees a day when Israel will redeem mankind and restore the universe to its ideal state, but he doesn't ignore the many pitfalls on the long way. He expands Yakov's visions, his warnings, and blessings of his sons, applying them to each of the 12 tribes, and to the nation of Israel.

So Yakov's dream of his divine mission, to be the Israeli ladder connecting heaven and earth, is tempered by his second vision- a battle to survive throughout the long night of history, struggling with those who fight Israel, God's chosen agent for spiritual redemption. Only at far-off Messianic dawn will Esav's millions of spiritual descendants bend their knee and acknowledge that Yakov's folk are their source of God-connection and of His blessing.

In this final great consciousness raising effort, Moshe connects all generations of Jews with their past origins and future destiny; his poetic summary of the entire Torah, like the Torah itself, is called "song." It warns and reminds Israel of their mission throughout the ages. After he delivers the poem, God calls him to view the land of Israel; he is about to die, never to enter it. Perhaps one must first sing his soul's song and bless Israel's mission, before she can truly understand and appreciate the holy land.

We read Ha'azinu during the High Holiday season as we stand before God while he comes to judge the earth. We feast with holiday joy on Rosh Hashana and right before the frightening Yom Kippur. Rabbi Shmuel Jakobovits asks: "How can we rejoice as we stand before God's judgment?"

Maimonides closes his laws of Lulav by saying: "That joy, rejoicing over doing a mitzvah, in love of the Lord who commanded it, is great divine service; he who holds back this rejoicing deserves punishment, as written: '... because you didn't worship God your Lord with joy and a good heart' (Deut. 28:47)."

So King Solomon warned: "Glorify yourself not, in the presence of The King' (Proverbs 28:10)." Anyone who lowers himself and treats his bodily dignity lightly--who serves (God) from love--on such occasions, is a truly great and honorable person.

Jakobovits applies this principle to the Days of Awe: true, God is coming to judge us, but the very fact that God is coming, making Himself more accessible to us, is cause for great universal joy.

Moshe taught this song three times: to those in his immediate vicinity, when he received and transcribed this prophetic message; to the tribal elders and police; when he gathered all Israel to hear it. Some consider Moshe's song as the essence of the entire Torah, each verse being of vast significance.

Rabbi Avraham Cohen (in "Sabbath Sermons," Soncino Press) sees Moshe as a model Jewish leader- he sacrifices his personal life for his people until his last moment, though they rebel and lack appreciation. But at the brink of fulfilling his dream- to see Israel safely settled in the Holy Land- God retires him. Moshe's disappointment must have been intense, but no murmur of complaint passed his lips. One may even suppose he died happy- he hadn't lived in vain; the work he commenced would be brought to fruition. Moshe's immortal greatness rests upon what he attempted, not what he achieved.

Only those who aim low accomplish all they desire. One man's unfinished work may be infinitely greater, more beneficial, than another's completed and lauded task. So David "failed" to carry out his heartfelt wish, to erect the Temple; Elijah failed to reform Israel; Ezra and Nechemiah died when their life's work seemed to be falling to pieces; Judah Maccabee died with the foe in full strength, etc. The bigger the undertaking, the less likelihood we'll finish it, but the greater our credit in making the venture: "It is not your duty to finish the work, but you are not free to ignore it" (Ethics of the Fathers, 2:21).

Torah Outreach Program, based in Jerusalem, provides a study of every Torah reading and Jewish Holiday, giving exact citations and interfacing modern culture and knowledge with the Torah and Jewish tradition. By its own description, Torah Outreach Program is apolitical, open, modern Zionist, and "truly traditional," believing that the written and oral law are from God. Visit their website at Torah Outreach Program.

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