Posted on March 23, 2011
by Bekah Hakimian
Shana Tova and G’mar Chatimah Tovah! As we begin the second to last Parsha in the Torah, a poem of warning that was introduced in the previous portion is read. Moshe is instructed by God to recite this poem of moral teachings. Moshe calls upon the heaven and earth to witness his words. He begins by praising God and describing the special care God has given Israel. In response, the people have spurned God and God’s laws. Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, they will suffer God’s wrath. Ultimately, God will show mercy to the Israelites and deliver them from their enemies. Moshe tells the people to take the warning he has recited very seriously. Israel’s observance of God’s laws is no trifling matter. These laws are the essence of their lives. The portion closes with God directing Moshe to ascend Mount Nevo and to look at the Land promised to the Israelites. Moshe is told he will die on the mountain.
Ha’azinu means “give ear,” as in this portion, Moshe calls upon heaven and earth to give ear to these words of praise. Why did Moshe call upon heaven and earth? Devarim Rabbah 10:4 provides several possibilities. One of them implies that it was actually Israel who was called to witness, since God has compared Israel to the stars of heaven (Beresheit 15:5) and to the dust of the earth (Beresheit 28:14). This is also the second time that Moshe has utilized a poetic structure to communicate with the Israelites. The first time was after Israel’s rescue at the Red Sea (Shemot 15) where the start of the years of wandering began in the desert. Here, Moshe speaks to the Israelites at the conclusion of their wandering. The first poem praises God for delivering the people from Pharaoh’s hand. The content of the second poem forewarned the people of their impending rebellion. It spelled out the retribution God would exact and the fact that the people would be ultimately redeemed.
If anything, this Parsha should give us hope for the new upcoming year. This Shabbat is indeed Shabbat Shuva (the Shabbat of Returning), the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It even says in the Parsha that God is redeeming. Personally, the High Holidays can often be a little daunting for the sole reason that we are trying our hardest to become better people and to finally be sealed into the Book of Life. I often read the English in the Mahzor to try and understand what exactly we are saying. The God that I am use to, the one who is compassionate and giving, is not always mentioned in the High Holiday prayers. We are pleading for our lives, and it is often very frightening to think about that. It is human nature to make mistakes and we are not always as perfect as we want to be. It is important to remember that and really strive to be a better person for the year to come. G’mar Chatimah Tovah. May you and your loved ones be sealed in the Book of Life and may this New Year bring peace and happiness to us all.