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Parashat Ha’Azinu 5774 — 09/04/2013

Parashat Ha’Azinu 5774 — 09/04/2013

Corruption is not His – the blemish is His children’s, a crooked and twisted generation.

Behold, to Hashem you have done this, your Maker and the One Who established you. (32:5-6)

Be careful to perform the entire Torah, for it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life. (32:46-47)

The Song of Ha’azinu encapsulates the history of the Jewish people, from its initial love-affair with Gd, to its straying, to its eventual repentance and return to Gd.  For this reason it is generally read on Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Repentance/Return, which is the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.  This history though is mirrored in our individual spiritual growth (hence its relevance to Yom Kippur), and also mirrors the process of creation (which took place on Rosh HaShanah).

Our verses are actually a bit of a conundrum.  We are told that “corruption is not His”?  Yet the next verse describes Gd as our Maker, the One Who established us.  If so, where did the corruption creep in?  If it is not to be ascribed to Gd, does that mean that we have existence independent of Gd?  Or did Gd create corruption along with the finite universe?

In a word, I think it depends on your point of view.  From our point of view, ensconsed as we are in the world of differences, there is light and darkness, good and evil, perfection and corruption.  There is movement towards Gd and there is movement away from Gd, which are experienced as bliss and as suffering, respectively.  Yet from Gd’s point of view, to the extent that we can understand it, there is only Gd, pure, infinite, unmoving and unchanging.  There is no towards or away, there is only integrated wholeness.  And of course, as our verse tells us, there is certainly no corruption, just perfection.

As we have seen as the weeks, and the parshiot, have gone by, Torah returns to this fundamental problem of existence and understanding over and over again.  Certainly the story of the Jewish people, in Torah and in Tanach, and in our post-Biblical history as well, has been a cyclical path superimposed on a progressive path, a helix if you will, where each cycle away from Gd and mitzvot is followed by a return to Gd, but at a higher level than before.  But at every juncture it seems, there’s a reminder to us that there is another perspective on the matter, in which all the phenomena we see taking place do not actually have any substantial existence.  This is Gd’s perspective, and it is much more “real” than the reality show we are all participating in.

I want to hasten to add something here.  It is good to be able to take Gd’s perspective as much as possible when it comes to our own life.  If something apparently negative happens to us, we want to understand that it is part of Gd’s plan for us and for the universe and accept it with as much equanimity as we can muster.  But when somebody else is suffering, the last thing we should do is to preach to them about how all this is for the good, and from Gd’s perspective it’s not really happening, etc.  No!  Our job is to do what we can to relieve that person’s distress, immediately!  A contemporary Rabbi said that this is the time when not believing in Gd is a mitzvah!  To a suffering person, the suffering is real, until they can come on their own to realize all that we have been discussing.  Our job is to help relieve suffering, not to teach philosophy, especially to those who are not really in a position to hear or use that information.

Just as Jewish history has this helical structure, so, it seems, does the overall creation.  The only way for creation to exist is for it to move “away” from Gd so to speak, maybe in more of a logical sense than a moral sense as is the case with human beings, and certainly not in a physical sense, since the concepts of space and time are not relevant to Gd at all.  The movement “away” from Gd is a movement towards diversity and individuation, but the ultimate purpose of this individuation is to produce more complex and sophisticated structures within the creation, that better and better mirror the infinitely complex and sophisticated Unity that is at their origin.  What begins as a movement “away” from Gd becomes a movement of return “to” Gd.  And like a piece of fractal art, this swing “away” and “to” takes place on every level of structure simultaneously – on the level of our cells, on the level of our personality, on the level of the people of Israel, and on the global and cosmic scales as well.

Our mission as Jews is to handle the “return to” part of the equation.  As created beings, we’re naturally enmeshed in the movement “away” from Gd – we have a finite body and mind, and we’re pulled in the direction of gratifying our finite senses with their finite pleasures.  Since Gd apparently didn’t want a robotic universe (what fun is there in that – just watching the toy trains go around and around the track, over and over and over) He created us with free will, so that we can choose the direction we want our lives to go.  Now, at the end of the Torah and at the end of his life, Moshe Rabbeinu pleads with us, exhorts us, cajoles us, to make the right choice.  We stand now at the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one, may it bring us only blessings.  Gd is sitting on His throne of Judgment, re-evaluating his investments so to speak, and making adjustments for the next stage of the journey.  We too are called upon to step back from our daily activity and re-evaluate our lives, our priorities, our relationships, our whole direction.  Let us be sure to use our time productively these days, and transform ourselves, and in so doing, transform and perfect the entire universe.