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Parashat HaAzinu 5780 — 10/12/2019

Parashat HaAzinu 5780 — 10/12/2019

Devarim 32:1-52

As Moshe Rabbeinu’s final charge to the people comes to an end, he leaves them with a “song” (HaAzinu) and a “blessing” (V’Zot haBeracha). R. Goldin inquires into the nature of these two means of communicating, and why Moshe uses both:

By saying goodbye to the nation through shira [song] and bracha [blessing], Moshe models two very different yet equally essential ways of relating to the world around us.

R. Goldin classifies these two ways as follows:

The realm of shira focuses on the heart…
Many of the earliest songs of our people are born spontaneously, with no reasoned forethought or considered calculation. The participants in these shirot are immersed in the unfolding story. Moved beyond measure by specific experiences, events or feelings, an individual or a group “erupts” in song, expressing through word the unprompted emotions of the heart.

Even the Psalms or Shir haShirim (Song of Songs), which are more conscious compositions than spontaneous outbursts of song, are directed at the heart. Later compositions – the Kinot of Tisha B’Av and the many piyyutim of the High Holidays, also tug at the heart, creating a particular set of emotions that draw us into the direct experience of the day.

Bracha is different:

The realm of bracha is vastly different. Here the mevarech, the individual reciting the blessing, takes a step back to objectively study, analyze, quantify and at times even try to control the reality around him.
While many different types of blessings are found within Jewish tradition, they all share one specific feature. In each case, the mevarech utters the blessing from a distance, gaining perspective as he determines the proper response to an experience, event or challenge.

In other words, bracha is focused on the mind. Thus, the two ways of relating to the world correspond to the heart, which unites and integrates, and the mind, which analyzes and takes apart. I think that these two modalities, analysis and synthesis, lie at the basis of creation, and therefore at the basis of the narrative of Torah and the whole scope of Jewish history.

Torah tells us that Gd created the universe and everything in it, yet Gd is an indivisible Unity, transcendental to all time, space, activity and change. Gd fills all of creation; Gd is the “place” of the creation, the creation is not the “place” of Gd. Gd is both transcendent and immanent. Creation is, as it were, virtual activity within Gd – virtual because Gd is not composed of parts that can interact with one another in a dynamic display. Gd is beyond change, yet all change takes place, on some virtual level, within Gd. If you find this hard to get your head around, so do I. It is really beyond understanding, beyond the ability of the mind to fathom or describe, which is why the expression “as it were” appears so often in Kabbalistic descriptions of the process of creation or of the nature of Gd and Gd’s relationship with creation.

An example from modern physics may clarify this (or may further obfuscate it…). In the past 40 years or so physicists have been developing a Unified Field theory. This Unified Field can vibrate in different modes – if in vibrates in one way it appears as electrons, another way it may appear as photons (light, electromagnetic waves), or any of the other elementary particles and their interactions. Since the elementary particles combine to form atoms, which combine to form molecules, which make up everything we see around us, including our bodies, all that we see is nothing more than a rich, complex pattern of vibration of the Unified Field. The Unified Field alone is real; the appearance of the physical creation is only our surface perception, which is on the level of differences. The underlying reality is that there is only unity.

Now let us return to Moshe Rabbeinu’s farewell. The process of creation begins with primordial Unity. That primordial Unity is self-interacting – there is nothing outside itself with which to interact. This self-interaction leads to a process of differentiation within the Unity, which eventually appears as the creation. This is the step of analysis – breaking wholeness down into parts. It is the process of individuation which we all go through beginning the moment we emerge from the womb. It is the process of exile – exile from the Garden, exile from the Land of Israel, exile from Gd’s Presence – and like any exile, it is profoundly frightening.

The process of individuation is not the end of the story however. As creation gets more diverse, the diverse values form themselves into ever more complex and coordinated structures. This is the process of evolution, a process of re-integration of diversity into ever-expanding levels of unity. In our own consciousness we can experience this return process when we experience thought at finer and finer levels, eventually transcending thought altogether and experiencing consciousness as unbroken, unbounded unity. In the life of the nation return is return to Land and to Gd, the end of both physical and spiritual exile. In the life of the cosmos it is the establishment of harmony and coherence in all aspects of cosmic life, so that the creation reflects as perfectly as possible the qualities of the Creator.

Sometimes the medium really is the message. As Moshe takes leave of us, the very form that he chooses echoes the message that he conveys. Just as exile/individuation is a natural and necessary phenomenon if we are to have a creation, so return/integration is a natural part of creation so that creation can fulfill its purpose. During this time of t’shuvah / return, we can all hasten the process of cosmic fulfillment by fulfilling our own purpose and returning to our own unbounded nature.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat HaAzinu

“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 for 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, translation.

As we realize this, we realize the implications of Gd 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 prepare for 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