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Parashat HaAzinu 5781 — 09/26/2020

Parashat HaAzinu 5781 — 09/26/2020

Devarim 32:1-52

When I call on the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our Gd (32:3) “literal” translation
Because I read the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our Gd (32:3) Or haChaim’s translation

This verse is recited at the beginning of every Minchah (afternoon) and Mussaf (extra prayers for holidays and New Moons) Amidah, prior to the verse, Lord, open my lips and my mouth will tell Your praises. At Shacharit (morning) and Ma’ariv (evening) prayers it is not said. Apparently the reason is that at Shacharit and Ma’ariv we say the blessing Who redeems Israel before the Amidah, and this would be an extra interposition, which is not allowed. Why it is not allowed is an interesting essay in itself, but that is for another time.

The Song of Ha’azinu is full of verses rich in ambiguity and multiple layers of meaning. Even translating them is not straightforward, as you can see from the comparison above. Or haChaim offers yet another translation of “When I call” / ekra as “When I honor” (taking ekra as coming not from the root k-r-a, “to read” or “to call” but rather from y-k-r / “honor” or, in Aramaic, “glory”). Incidentally, the word Koran (Quran) comes from the cognate root and means something like “recitation.”

The meaning is that the thing to which [Moshe] was referring in his statements [i.e. the Torah] is the Name of Hashem, in accordance with [the Sages’] statement (Zohar, vol II, 224a), that the entire Torah consists of Names of the Holy One, blessed is He. …
   Our verse also alludes to the idea that although Hashem noted [previously] that studying Torah and rain and dew are dependent on each other, a person’s intent when studying Torah should not be for this [blessing of sustenance]. Rather, to read the Book of Hashem’s Torah … This is called Torah for its own sake (Torah lishmah) – to exalt and glorify Hashem’s honored Name.
   As for that which it says I read in first person, it is what each individual among the Jewish people shall do. Alternatively, it is in accordance with what [the Sages] of blessed memory, say (Tikkunei Zohar §69) – that the souls of all those who engage in Torah are sparks of the soul of Moshe … until the end of all generations.

There’s a lot going on here. First, what does it mean that Torah is the Names of Gd? Commentator have noted that, since there are no vowels or punctuation marks in the Torah text, the letters can be broken up in ways that can be quite different from the standard readings, and that these can allude to different aspects of the Divine. Gd is infinite, and therefore cannot be defined by any Name; the different Names of Gd point to the way He runs the world.

Torah, as we have seen in prior essays, is the sound of Gd speaking to Himself, within Himself. This speech is the basis of Creation, as Zohar tells us, Torah is the blueprint of creation. The vibrations of Gd’s speech, as recorded in Torah, project “outward” as it were and make creation appear. R. Akiva Tatz likens creation to the images on a movie screen, projected there when the light (of Gd) projects through the film, or hologram (of Torah). In this sense, Torah is a record of Gd’s actions that we (or at least Moshe) could cognize as the sounds of human speech.

Since the whole of creation is contained within Torah, all the laws of nature that govern both physical and non-physical existence are there as well, including those laws that govern the parts of nature vital to our sustenance, like rain and dew. The point of Torah study, as we have discussed before, is to bring the mind to the level of the transcendent, where Torah, and therefore all the laws of nature, reside. Doing this repeatedly cultures the mind to think in a manner that is in accord with all the laws of nature, such that all the laws of nature support our progress, as individuals and as a society. Thus, the rains come on time, crops flourish, and we enjoy both material bounty and spiritual fulfillment. However, it is important to note that if our minds are on the material bounty, they are being drawn to the outward direction, because that is where the material bounty exists. Rather, we have to allow the mind to settle down to the silent,  transcendental level by itself, because that is where it is going to find true fulfillment. We let go and know that if we handle the inner, root level of life, all the outer, material fruits will be there as well.

Or haChaim’s last point is very fascinating. Moshe Rabbeinu’s cognition was presumably complete – Gd did not withhold anything from him. Not all of us are so lucky. Even if we were to purify our nervous systems completely, they would still be our individual nervous systems, and they will resonate more with certain parts of Torah perhaps than with others. That is, the cognition we have may be complete in its essence, as wholeness vibrating within itself, but it will have some shading in one direction or another. Our souls will be a piece of Moshe’s soul. Of course this is, as they say, “First-world problems.” The whole issue is moot until we have actually purified ourselves. That’s what these 10 days of Repentance are all about!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat 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.

He delivers this message primarily as a song which Gd, in Parshah Vayeilech had him write down with the instruction that he should teach this song to Israel so that even when they turn away from Gd “their children will remember the song and rebuke them.”

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’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. He is the good ones and the villains. Amazing!

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 approach Rosh Hashana, let us do the greatest kindness, the greatest love, to ourself and our neighbors and attune ourselves to Torah, to Gd, naturally, comfortably, easily, but steadily, consistently, routinely, naturally, spontaneously.

Baruch HaShem

Days of Awe

We are awed when the boundaries of our senses and our thoughts are transcended and we get a glimpse or a lasting experience of Wholeness, of God, an experience that is beyond the ability of words to describe and yet is clearly a Blessing, an experience that we are more than we thought we were: even the greatest human is but a particle of this Wholeness.

Some synonyms that help us grasp this sense of “awe” are “wonder” and “astonishment.”

Some words that go along with the experience are “unbelievable”, “incredible”, “indescribable.”

We may experience big smiles, laughter, joy, gratitude and universal qualities such as Universal Love, Intuitive understanding, confidence, strength, kindness. The Ten Sephirot, Attributes of Gd, give a short list of the way in which Gd hides and then reveals the Wholeness. These Attributes are completely Gd,  nothing other and yet in order to speak about them and visualize them, people have described them as ranging from the most hiding, Malchut, the Kingdom, to Keter, the Crown, most Revealing. We can think of the Ten Days of Awe as progressing in this way as we purify ourselves and let our sins progressively vanish and our virtues progressively become clearer, stronger, greater.

The Ten Days of Awe begin with Rosh HaShanah, on the first day of Tishrei (very appropriate, since “Tishrei” means “Beginning”) to Yom Kippur on the 10th day of Tishrei. The Days of Awe are often looked at as days of repentance in which we seek reconciliation with people we may have wronged or people we feel have wronged us. Some of the means can be actions such as apologies, forgiveness, prayer and good deeds; for example, charitable donations.

On Yom Kippur, we specifically seek to atone for sins we have committed against Gd.

Sins are veils and we do our best to apologize for them to thin the veils that thickened through turning away from Gd through actions, thoughts, desires.

What are some signs that we’re dissolving the veils? Qualities associated with the Sefirot, such as:

  • Seeing and feeling more Beauty (Sefirot of Tiferet);
  • more Kindness and Love (Chesed),
  • more Confidence and Strength (Gevurah), and, of course,
  • more Wholeness and Awe (Keter).

Have an awesome Ten Days!

Baruch HaShem