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Parashat HaAzinu 5779 — 09/22/2018

Devarim 32:1-52

The Shabbat between Yom Kippur and Sukkot has no special name, nor, apparently, any special significance. It is a day which one cannot work on one’s Sukkah, and there are few enough days after Yom Kippur that one may feel the loss of one of them all the more keenly. Perhaps the fact that this Shabbat is not special indicates that there is no real break in the atmosphere between the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur on the one hand, and the joyous festival of Sukkot on the other. To be sure, the former is focused on t’shuvah / return – to Gd, or to one’s own unbounded, inner nature, while the latter is z’man simchateinu / the Season of Our Joy.

Ordinarily, we think that t’shuvah / repentance and simcha / joy do not go together. I think this is a terrible misconception. To be sure, there is an element of t’shuvah that isn’t particularly joyous – looking back at the past, which is a lower level of development, and assessing what has to be done to correct any faults, but in general t’shuvah is the process of reconnecting with Gd, and one could hardly find anything more joyous than that.

The liturgy and the customs of both holidays reflect this linkage of joy and t’shuvah. On Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur the liturgy is heavily weighted towards t’shuvah, especially on Yom Kippur, but there is an underlying joy from confidence that our t’shuvah will be accepted and our relationship with Gd will be repaired and renewed. We wear the white kittel, which is at once reminiscent of the shrouds in which one is buried, but also symbolizes life in purity in the light of Gd. Similarly, during Sukkot the liturgy is the joyous Festival liturgy, yet the special Hoshanot prayers offered every day are penitential prayers. The last day of Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabbah, brings the entire penitential season to a close. (Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are a separate holiday.) And all 3 holidays are Festivals, celebrated with eating and drinking (for Yom Kippur there is a mitzvah to eat and drink on the day before).

In Parashat Ha’azinu we find a similar confluence of these two themes. We have at once a rebuke for the nation’s faithlessness and a promise of retribution for that faithlessness, but we also have a consolation at the end, that there is a light – Gd’s light – at the end of the long, long tunnel of exile that we are in.

Is He not your Father, your Master? Has He not created you and established you? (32:6)

Gd is the creator of the universe – He created us and as such He has the right to demand from us complete subservience. Yet He is also our loving Father, and from the order of the expressions, it would appear that Gd sees Himself primarily as a Father. Our Sages tell us that Gd has two primary attributes when relating to the world. The attribute of strict justice (midat haDin) corresponds to Gd’s role as our master. It is inflexible and demanding and corresponds to the laws of nature. The attribute of mercy (midat haRachamim) corresponds to Gd’s role as our father.

As we have mentioned on previous occasions, Gd tried to create the world using only the midat haDin, but found that it could not endure. This is because, as created beings, we do not start out our path of evolution in a state of perfection. As the advertisement says, we have to perfect ourselves the old-fashioned way. We have to earn it. This of course takes time. The midat haRachamim is what gives us this time. Gd, our Father, is patient with His growing children the way any father is patient. The path of growth is the path of t’shuvah; we return to our own infinite nature, and in doing so connect back to Gd as well. When that happens the result is infinite joy – for both Gd and us!

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach to all!

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Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parsashat Ha’Azinu

Ha’azinu” means “Listen”: not just “hear” but “listen, listen with full attention”.

As he speaks to our ancestors (and to us), Moses calls upon Heaven and Earth to listen. Not only Heaven and Earth outside us, but within us.

He praises Gd and rebukes Israel from turning away from Gd. Moses concludes by telling our ancestors (and all generations) to set our heart to his words so that we may command our children to obey Torah: Torah will be alive in us and so our words will be alive and we may command, not just tell.

The central message in Moses’s song is that there is no god besides Gd.

Gd Says, “See now that it is I! (who Am your Rock and Your Shelter). I Am the One and there is no god like Me.” Deuteronomy 32:39, chabad.org translation.

As we realize this, we realize the implications of Gd’s Being One: not only is there no god besides Gd, there is nothing but Gd and all that exists is an expression of Gd, within Gd. Everything is Gd from the Universe, to galaxies, stars, planets, mountains, trees, people, our actions, our thoughts, our feelings, our decisions, our memory.

And so when Gd praises or rebukes he is simply playing a game in which He is the Director, Screenwriter, Actors, Camera Crew, audience and reviewers.

Gd is the Source of our thought and of our decisions, our actions.

When we read in Torah that our ancestors turned away from Gd, it is clear that Gd was the One who is the thought that made them turn.

It is good to remember this so that we are not hard on those who stray, whether it was our ancestors or our neighbors or ourselves. When we make a decision to turn toward or away from Wholeness, it is Gd who is making the decision, even though it seems as if we are.

But, that said, we can’t spend our lives constantly thinking “Gd is All, Gd is my thought, I have nothing to do with anything…” and so on.

We have to act naturally, spontaneously, just being the people we are, with the personalities and skills we have, yet always favoring what we know to be right, letting our heart always fill with love for Gd and our neighbor.

Torah and the vast range of commentary on it, as well as our own feelings and thoughts about it, help us to develop a firm sense of right and wrong, help us to act from this wisdom, and to better and better return to our Source—Gd.

So as we have passed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur refreshed for a new year, let us do the greatest kindness, the greatest love, to ourselves and our neighbors and attune ourselves to Torah, to Gd, naturally, comfortably, easily, but steadily, consistently, routinely, naturally, spontaneously.

Baruch HaShem