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Parashat HaAzinu 5777 — 10/15/2016

Parashat HaAzinu 5777 — 10/15/2016

Devarim 32:1-52

The song of HaAzinu is very different from the Song of the Sea, which is part of the preliminary service recited each morning.

Above all, the Song of the Sea was the beginning of a road that was meant to be one of increasing ascent, from Gd’s mountain to the Holy Land, a path that is full of hope, with no worry or fear.

The Song of Moses [i.e. HaAzinu] is a song of the end of the road. It is sung at the end of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, at the point where Moses conveys to Israel his parting words. Hence, this song is Moses’ testament and guidance for the future.

But these differences between the songs, differences in tone and in context, are nothing compared to the main difference, the difference in content. The Song of the Sea is praise, and like every song of praise, it is essentially a recitation of good things. By contrast, the Song of Moses is a song of challenge: It has a vision that is based upon an assumption that the people will not be able to remain steadily on the path of tranquil progress. There are too many factors, from various angles, that can lead to failures and falls. Although the Jewish people possess a sense of national memory more than any other nation, nevertheless, there is forgetfulness that results from distance in time and from engaging in other things.

The basic thrust of HaAzinu is that as Israel becomes settled and prosperous in its Land, it will begin to fall away from the level of faith in Gd, and obedience to Gd’s Will, that produced that prosperity and security to begin with. Of course, the rest of the Bible bears out almost exactly what Moshe Rabbeinu is talking about – a spiral downward as the people fall away from Gd, get defeated and subjugated by their enemies, and repent and return to the correct ways of behaving and regain the upper hand. It appears however, that as time goes on, things got worse and worse, until, to paraphrase Tevye the Milkman, “there is no upper hand!” The people are exiled to Babylonia. Seventy years later a small fraction of the Jewish population of Babylonia returns to the Land of Israel, rebuilds the Temple, and reconstitutes Jewish life, only to have it fall apart again until the Romans ushered us into the current 2000+ year exile.

In Rabbinic parlance this degeneration is called yeridat hadorot – the descent/degeneration of the generations. Why does it happen? We have some statements of our Sages that throw light on this situation. Moses’ face shone like the sun, Yehoshua’s like the moon (Baba Batra 75a). The difference between the sun and the moon is quite striking – the sun shines with its own light, while the moon shines only with reflected light. Moshe Rabbeinu was unique in our tradition in having direct access to Gd; this transfigured him so that he had to veil his face in order to have a conversation with ordinary people. Just as we cannot look at the sun directly without losing our (physical) eyesight, so one couldn’t look directly at Moshe without some kind of damage due to the intensity of the Divinity he was radiating.

In Yehoshua’s case, Gd told Moshe to lay his hands on Yehoshua and that He would place some of Moshe’s glory on him. In other words, Yehoshua’s radiance was a borrowed radiance; although he was a prophet we do not find that he spoke with Gd “face to face” as Moshe did. To a certain extent this was due to Moshe Rabbeinu’s unique qualities. Gd needed someone to receive the entirety of Torah, and that was Moshe. Once that was done, Torah became ours to wrestle with; someone on Moshe’s level might even have impeded the process. Perhaps that is why Moshe was not allowed to enter the Land.

To a certain extent, any student can only reflect what he has learned from his teacher, and the greater the teacher, the bigger his influence on his students. It is extremely difficult to step out of the shadows of a great teacher and to find one’s own voice. If the student is to become the leader of his generation, rather than a copy of the leader of a previous generation, it is vital that the student does find his own voice, his own way of relating to his people, his own interpretation and instantiation of the basic principles of the tradition. Rabbi Eliezer the Great said that he had learned perhaps 2% of what his teachers had to offer, and that he was only able to impart 2% of his knowledge to his students. That’s a pretty remarkable attrition rate!

In fact however, this is always the case, as we discussed once before. The teacher speaks from his level of integrated awareness, and seeks to implant that integrated vision in the student’s mind. The student’s mind, on the other hand, has not reached the level of maturity that can comprehend the teacher’s broader vision. In addition, teaching is a somewhat linear process; one learns things one at a time and then integrates them into a whole body of knowledge. All this takes time and experience. In the case of any kind of spiritual learning, it also takes attending to who the teacher is, as much (or more than) what he says. The student wants to model the teacher’s state of consciousness until he can live it in a natural way. Thus the Talmud describes students as serving their teachers, rather than studying with their teachers, as we do in a Western, academic setting.

In order to avoid yeridat hadorot, it is necessary for the educational process to be able to expand the student’s consciousness, not just to fill it with information. We will never be able to fit the wisdom of infinity into a finite container. If we want the student to rise to the level of the teacher, so that he can faithfully carry on the tradition, then the teacher must be able to raise the student to the same infinite level. When this happens, the flow of pure knowledge between the two is effortless and complete. This is the goal of a Torah education – indeed it is the goal of all education – to open the student up to his own unbounded nature.

Haftarah: II Samuel 22:1-51

Our reading is the “Song of David” spoken “on the day that Hashem delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” I find it a bit surprising that Saul is separated from “all his enemies.” Saul, in his madness, had relentlessly pursued David, thinking David was trying to supplant him as King (this is after the prophet Samuel had told Saul that he would lose the kingdom after failing to wipe out Amalek as instructed). It may be that David never felt enmity towards Saul (who was, incidentally, his father-in-law), although he certainly did need rescue from Saul’s hand, and therefore the introductory verse separates them out.

On a similar topic, the Song of the Day for Tuesday, Psalm 82, has the following verses: I had said, “You are like angels, you are all sons of the Most High. But like mortals you shall die, and like one of the princes you shall fall.”  It always struck me that this might be the cry of disillusionment – David was basically a farm boy, who was thrust into the national limelight after his miraculous defeat of Goliath. Overawed by the King’s court, he said You are like angels, but after getting accustomed to the environment, and starting to see that these great men put on their pants one leg at a time like everyone else, he concluded But like mortals you shall die.

Hashem repaid me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanliness before His eyes. With the devout You act devoutly, with the wholehearted strong you act wholeheartedly. With the pure You act purely, with the crooked You act perversely. (25-27)

Sometimes we see this “measure for measure” very clearly, very often we don’t. Part of the reason is that we only see a tiny fraction of creation – not only is the earth a mere speck in the cosmos, but the whole material cosmos is a mere crust on the surface of a great ocean of existence, which has many layers upon layers that are invisible to our physical senses. Nevertheless, Gd’s calculations are very precise; what He gives us is calibrated to give us the opportunity for maximal growth. We just have to be alert enough to take the opportunity, and attend to the feedback we get!


Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parshat Ha’azinu

In a Song that contains not only the affirmation that Gd is Righteous but also the statements that the people are ungrateful, impure, and will sin, Moses says that his words will drip like rain, flow like dew: they are sweet.

A bit of lesson to me is that Torah is to be taken on the level of its sound, which is always sweet, and that our listening should be done with an innocent heart, so we always feel and experience the connection with Gd that Torah brings, we always feel a taste (at least) of re-connection with Oneness.

Bob Rabinoff, if weather permits, will come to the Synagogue this Friday Night, this Erev Shabbat, and sing the Song of Moses with the traditional cantillations.

I am learning these tropes/cantillations/trills but Bob already knows them!

An affirmation of what most of us, perhaps all of us, already experience, is that Gd is righteous and, though we may err and fall into hard times as a consequence, Gd will restore our attunement to the right path, to the path of His Torah, His Law, and all will again be sweet and well.

Here is how Moses begins:

1 Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!

אהַֽאֲזִ֥ינוּ הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וַֽאֲדַבֵּ֑רָה וְתִשְׁמַ֥ע הָאָ֖רֶץ אִמְרֵי־פִֽי:

2 My lesson will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew; like storm winds on vegetation and like raindrops on grass.

ביַֽעֲרֹ֤ף כַּמָּטָר֙ לִקְחִ֔י תִּזַּ֥ל כַּטַּ֖ל אִמְרָתִ֑י כִּשְׂעִירִ֣ם עֲלֵי־דֶ֔שֶׁא וְכִרְבִיבִ֖ים עֲלֵי־עֵֽשֶׂב:

3 When I call out the name of the Lord, ascribe greatness to our Gd.

גכִּ֛י שֵׁ֥ם יְהֹוָה֖ אֶקְרָ֑א הָב֥וּ גֹ֖דֶל לֵֽאלֹהֵֽינוּ:

4 The deeds of the [Mighty] Rock are perfect, for all His ways are just; a faithful Gd, without injustice He is righteous and upright.

דהַצּוּר֙ תָּמִ֣ים פָּֽעֳל֔וֹ כִּ֥י כָל־דְּרָכָ֖יו מִשְׁפָּ֑ט אֵ֤ל אֱמוּנָה֙ וְאֵ֣ין עָ֔וֶל צַדִּ֥יק וְיָשָׁ֖ר הֽוּא:

Meaning of “Listen!”

There are many discussions of the meaning of “listen” on the Net: Personally, I take it the way Moses puts it in verse 46: “Set your hearts to all of the words.”  Listening with the heart and even more deeply setting the hearts to the words is very deep. Given that Gd’s Presence was apparent to the people in the Tabernacle (which He had built so He could dwell there, be apparent to the people) the hearts of the people who were listening to Moses were at that time very pure, very deep, very Full of Gd’s Presence. And yet somewhat impure for Gd had Moses (with Joshua standing by) write what we call the “song of Moses” to bear witness to Gd’s righteousness when the people, not satisfied with all that Gd gave them, had rebelled and turned to worship minor deities and demons. The song would bear witness that Gd would “Hide His Face” when they rebelled but he would later restore them to purity and again they would live in His Righteousness.

Consider that Moses is before the Children of Israel, before all of us, really, but he addresses the heavens and the earth. In our tradition,”heavens” symbolizes the subtler aspects not only of our universe but also of our personality, including the physiology, and “earth”, symbolizes the more surface aspects: Moses is telling all of Life to listen deeply.

Moses concludes:

46 And he (Moses) said to them, “Set your hearts to all of the words which I bear witness for you this day, so that you may command your children to observe to do all the words of this Torah.

מווַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֲלֵהֶם֙ שִׂ֣ימוּ לְבַבְכֶ֔ם לְכָ֨ל־הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָֽנֹכִ֛י מֵעִ֥יד בָּכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר תְּצַוֻּם֙ אֶת־בְּנֵיכֶ֔ם לִשְׁמֹ֣ר לַֽעֲשׂ֔וֹת אֶת־כָּל־דִּבְרֵ֖י הַתּוֹרָ֥ה הַזֹּֽאת:

47 For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land to which you are crossing over the Jordan, to possess it.”

This is a good song to set our hearts to.

Baruch HaShem.