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Parashat 09/28/2011

Parashat HaAzinu 5772

Submitted by Robert Rabinoff

Ki chelek H” amo / For Gd’s portion is His People / For His People are part of Gd (32:9)

I once read a drash on Parashat HaAzinu that described it as “our national anthem.”  In some way the Song that takes up the bulk of the Parashah must define our national essence.  What then is that essence?


The general structure of the Song is the same as that of Creation – it begins with a section that details Gd’s goodness to and closeness with Israel, followed by a section that describes Israel’s distancing itself from Gd and Gd’s reaction to that distancing.  Finally, it concludes with Israel’s repentence and Gd’s forgiveness, and the reconstruction of the relationship at a higher level of intimacy and integration.  This echoes our understanding of the process of creation itself, as described by our esoteric tradition.  Gd, alone in His Unity, “contracts” within His own nature to allow “space” for finite beings to exist.  Part of this creation is humankind, which, unique among all living beings (terrestrial or celestial), can use its free will to bridge the “distance” between the finite and the infinite, and “re-integrate” Gd and His Creation.


I believe Israel’s great mission in this entire drama is focused on the third stage – the reintegration of creation and Creator – also known as tikun olam (rectification of the world).  This rectification takes place, I believe, primarily on the level of awareness.  Of all Gd’s creatures, human beings appear to be the only ones who can become self-aware to the extent that we can form a relationship with Gd.  We can recognize Gd, and in doing so, we recognize ourselves as participating in Gd’s infinite nature.


I believe this is reflected in the ambiguity of the first passage, which I have indicated by translating it a bit differently (2nd translation) than the usual way it is rendered (from the Artscroll Chumash).  The plain meaning of the text is a statement that the Jewish people are Gd’s special treasure – the “chosen people,” with a special job to do.  On Rosh HaShanah, which comes right before Shabbat HaAzinu, we “coronate” Gd as our King and as King of the universe – that is, we proclaim that the entire creation comes from Gd and belongs to Gd.  Just as humankind is special in that human beings can comprehend that they are creatures and can come into a relationship with their Creator, so Israel is special among humankind in that our special national tafkid is to be Gd’s agents in the physical world actively to bring about this relationship, not just among ourselves, but for all people.  This is expressed beautifully in the Alenu prayer, which is prominently featured in the Rosh HaShanah liturgy, and which of course appears in each and every prayer service, as a kind of charge to us as we leave the synagogue to go out into the world.


The second translation I believe represents an additional, higher level of awareness.  In the first translation, we see ourselves as Gd’s agents, and there is a Talmudic principle that a person’s agent is like himself.  Thus, in accepting Gd’s mission we become, as it were, like Gd, able to act in Gd’s Name as if He were acting directly.  (This is why it is so important that we act properly at all times – we are not just representing ourselves or even the Jewish people, but we are representing Gd Himself!)  On a higher level, we realize that we are a part of Gd’s Essence – that the entire creation drama is, on some level, a bit illusory.  Does Gd really “contract” within Himself?  Is there really a “space” or a “distance” between us and Gd?  Only on the level of our limited perception!  The reality is, from Gd’s perspective He is all there ever was or ever will be.  If Gd is hidden from us, it is because we don’t know how to look, or because we have clouded and closed the windows of perception through our misguided actions.  The purpose of our life, and especially these Ten Days of T’shuvah, is to clear our perception so that we see through the veil that appears to block us from contact with Gd, and to understand that there was, in fact, never a separation between the Creator and His creation.


This holiday season gives us plenty of time to learn to “cleave to HaShem.”  We are exhorted to do t’shuvah, that is, to return to Gd and to Torah.  In Richard Bach’s Jonathon Livingston Seagull the wise old bird tells Jonathon, “Perfect speed is being there.”  Perhaps our one, ambiguous verse in HaAzinu is telling us “Perfect returning is never having left.”


A sweet New Year and an easy, meaningful Fast!