By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
Every year, either in proximity, or during the ‘Ten Days of Repentance,’ we read the penultimate Torah parsha, Haazinu. It is no coincidence that when we are experiencing a heightened sense of spirituality, we are enjoined to hear Moses’ final words to The Children of Israel.
For a month, prior to this week’s parsha, Moses had been telling this new generation of Israelites about their collective history, their destiny and the laws which would make theirs a unique society. Now, in the final days of his life, Moses delivers his farewell message in a manner both inspirational and profound.
He evokes the emotions of the Children of Israel by expressing his words in a song. “Words are the language of the mind; music is the language of the soul”(1). Moses begins his song with elegance: “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; let the earth hear the words that I utter; may my discourse come down as the rain, my speech distill as the dew; like the showers on young growth, like droplets on the grass”(2).
The lyrics of Moses’ song are cryptic. Neither names, nor specific incidents are mentioned. Nevertheless, God’s anger against idolatry, complacency and rebellion are apparent. At one point in the song, Moses repeats God’s words: “If they do not obey my commandments, I will make an end of them and eradicate their remembrance from mankind”(3).
The song continues, describing how God, after saving the people from Egypt, saw the Israelites wandering in the desert and howling in the wasteland. “He encompassed them, and bestowed understanding on them, as ‘the pupil’ of his eye”(4).
In effect, the primary theme of Moses’ song is intended for all future generations. Speaking on behalf of God, Moses sings: “See now that it is I!… I am the One, and there is no God like me; I cause death and I create life; I strike, but I heal; and no one can be rescued from My Hand”(5).
Throughout the Torah, we have learned of the sins of our ancestors and the corresponding punishments. During these ‘Ten Days of Repentance,’ we can consider the negative behaviors of previous generations and perceive ourselves, and our lives, as part of the dynamics set in motion by those who preceded us.
When we view ourselves as a living link in the chain of our history and do not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors, we are able to forge a stronger relationship with God. “This is Judaism’s true historical consciousness; it is in our power to give form and meaning – – not only to the present, not only to the future, – – but to the past as well”(6).
Leon Wieseltier, in his book, “Kaddish,” reminds us, in another context of the ultimate message of parsha Haazinu:
“…. the past soaks the present like the light of a distant star; things that are over do not end, they come inside us ….and there they live on in the consciousness of individuals and communities”(7).
(1) Jonathan Wolfgang Goethe (1748-1832), Frankfurt, Germany
(2) DEUTERONOMY (32: 1-2)
(3) DEUTERONOMY (32:10)
(4) DEUTERONOMY (32:26)
(5) DEUTERONOMY (32:39)
(6) Baal Shem (1688-1760), Ukraine
(7) Leon Wieselitier, “Kaddish” (NY Vintage Books, 2000)