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Ha’azinu – 5773
Hitting the Reset Button
By Rabbi Moshe Gewirtz
חלק ה’ עמו יעקב חבל נחלתו
“For G-d’s portion is His people, Jacob is the measure of His inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 32:9)
In his explanation of this verse, Rashi comments that as a result of the dedicated observance of the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a triple-stranded spiritual rope was created. This rope binds the Jewish people to G-d in an enduring way, just as the genetic bond eternally links family members to one another.
Earlier the Torah states regarding the mitzvah of repentance, “The matter is very near to you, in your mouth and your hearts to do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14). Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv) asks why repentance is described as an easy commandment, which is in our hearts to do. True repentance often involves uprooting habits and deeply-ingrained customs. The Netziv answers, no matter how far we stray from the true and just path of the Torah, we are still closely connected to G-d through the bond of our patriarchs. No matter how far a child strays from his parents, his journey back is eased by unbreakable familial bonds. So too, our eternal connection with G-d eases our return through true repentance.
On Yom Kippur Eve in 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, Rabbi Yekusiel Halberstam, the grand rabbi of Klausenberg, addressed a group of Holocaust survivors in a DP camp. The rabbi himself had lost his wife and 11 children at the hands of the Nazis. He opened up a prayer book to the Confession Service (Vidduy) and asked, “What part of the confession is anyone in this room guilty of transgressing? Have we sinned? We did not have time or energy to sin. Could we have slandered anyone? Who had breath to waste on slander?” The rabbi went through the entire list of sins and declared it impossible for anyone in the crowd to have committed any of them. “This confession is not written for us,” he proclaimed. After a few moments of silence broken by sobbing, the rabbi said, “There was one sin we all committed in the depths of the hell that was our lives. Each morning, we were envious of our brothers and sisters who did not wake up to another day of living hell. We lost our faith in G-d and said that He had forsaken us. This is our sin, and for this we must atone.” The Rabbi concluded with a prayer, “G-d, please restore our faith and trust in You, and help us establish new families to perpetuate this faith our future generations.”
How did Rabbi Halberstam and his listeners have strength to return to G-d? They tapped into the strength of the 3,000 year-old connection between G-d and the Jewish people that was passed from father to son all the way back from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This week, as individuals and as a people, we celebrate Rosh Hashanah. It is both a solemn and joyous day. Solemn, because we face the task of recognizing those areas in which we, too, have allowed our troubles to cause us to lose faith in the innate connection we all have to G-d. The feeling that we are alone in facing our hardships brings its own consequences: disillusionment, apathy, and a sense that we are helpless to build a fresh start.
But Rosh Hashanah is also a day of joy, because it allows us to pull ourselves out of those negative feelings. The introspection of the day compels us not only to reflect back on our tribulations, but also to think of new ways to overcome them by embracing our heritage with renewed vigor. Indeed, there may be no greater joy than knowing that even in the face of the most difficult challenges, we still have the ability to press the “reset” button on our relationship with G-d, with the people around us, and with our own personal mission in this world.
Word of the Week
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher
“The deeds of the צור —tzur are perfect…” (Deuteronomy 32:4). The Targum translates tzur as “Mighty One,” meaning G-d, Who is referred to as a Tzur, which literally means “rock.” In our prayers we find this expression as well, for instance, צור ישראל—Tzur Yisrael—Rock of Israel. Maimonides understands this to mean that G-d is the “rock from which all of existence is hewn and the source of all of existence” (Guide for the Perplexed 1:16). The Talmud (Brachot 10a) understands the word as related to צייר—tzayar—painter or artist, in that G-d is the “artist” Who created the world as His work of art
Hey, I Never Knew That
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher
“G-d will then take up the cause of His people and comfort His servants. He will have seen that their power is gone and they have no protection or help” (Deuteronomy 32:36). On the eve of the Six Day War in 1967, when the world had abandoned the State of Israel and it was surrounded by hostile enemies about to attack, many Jews were in a state of despair. Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky spoke in a synagogue in the Jerusalem suburb of Bayit Vegan and told the people gathered there that Israel’s abandonment by the world, and the threats of destruction by her enemies, were not reasons to despair but reasons to hope. He quoted the verse in our parsha which states that when G-d sees that the power of the Jews is gone, “[A]nd they have no protection or help,” that is when He, Himself, “will then take up the cause of His people.” His words struck a chord in the crowd, raised them from despair to hope and people left with a certainty that G-d would intercede to save His people (heard from someone present at the speech).
In his address to the Jewish people on the final day of his life, Moses said, “Apply your hearts to all the words that I testify regarding you today, with which you are to instruct your children to be careful to perform all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this matter you shall prolong your days on the Land to which you cross the Jordan to possess it” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47). The Hebrew words for “an empty thing from” you literally mean “it is not an empty from you.” If we consider a part of the Torah “empty” and fail to embark on a search for its meaning, it is “from you,” i.e. it is our failure, rather than a deficiency in the Torah.
- If someone has trouble understanding the relevance of certain words in the Torah, would it be better to first think about (or guess) their significance or to first examine what the Torah commentaries say on the subject?
- What is one to think if he or she made the effort, but could not find the educational value in the seemingly unnecessary words?
A Question for the Rabbis
By: Rabbi Mordechai Becher
The question of disinterring a body buried in the Diaspora for burial in the Land of Israel is one which has been discussed extensively from Talmudic times until the present day. One of the central sources of the discussion appears in our parsha. The verse states, “[A]nd His land will atone for His people” (Deuteronomy 32:43). The Code of Jewish Law allows the body to be disinterred in order to bury it in Israel (Yoreh Deah 363:1), and the commentaries cite as the reason that the “very earth of the Land of Israel atones” (Siftei Cohen ad loc.). This verse is also the source of the custom mentioned in the Code of Jewish Law (ibid.) to place earth from the Land of Israel in the coffin when someone is buried outside of Israel.
This week’s portion, Ha’azinu, opens with the “song” of which Moses spoke in the previous chapter. Heaven and earth were called to bear witness to the tragedies that would befall the Jewish people if they sinned, as well as the ultimate joy that will come with the final redemption. As a “song,” much of the portion actually appears in a different format in the written Torah. Additionally, because of the nature of the Moses’ prophecy at this moment in time, past, present and future events were often intertwined. Moses began by praying that his words of Torah would penetrate and benefit the entire nation, each person according to his level, the way rain and dew benefits vegetation, each according to its specific needs. “Remember the days of yore,” Moses declared, calling on the people to study history with eye toward understanding G-d’s role in shaping human events. When the nations of the world forfeited their desire to be the bearers of G-d’s mission in the world, G-d chose Jacob and his children – 70 souls corresponding to the 70 nations of the world. The Jewish nation would grow and develop from this core. The development of the Jewish people as a nation reached its peak during the 40 years in the desert. These were years of incredible closeness between G-d and the Jewish people. G-d watched over them like an eagle hovering over its young. All of the nation’s needs were provided – a blessing that will continue to benefit the people in the Land of Israel if they follow G-d’s ways. However, Moses warned against the pitfalls of too much prosperity. The good life makes the well-to-do “fat,” and unable to appreciate their spiritual obligations. Once in place, this attitude would spread to the common people as well, endangering the entire nation. The inevitable result is a decline in the moral fabric of the nation and a descent into idolatry, which then provoked G-d into taking harsh corrective actions. If the Jewish people “ignored the Rock Who gave birth” to them, then G-d would turn away as well. The terrible suffering that would befall the nation would make it appear as if G-d was “hiding His face” from His people, bringing foreign conquerors, who would scatter the Jews to all ends of the earth. Israel’s enemies would be so victorious that they would believe that they had prevailed because of their own military prowess, not realizing that they were simply agents of G-d’s anger. However, the very pride of the enemies of the Jewish people is their downfall. Failing to realize that G-d was employing them for His purposes, the nations of the world would face G-d’s ultimate retribution. Ultimately, G-d will relent and bring about the final redemption of the Jewish people and destruction of their enemies. The blood of Jewish victims throughout the centuries will be avenged and the Jewish people will be brought back to their Land. The portion then concludes with Moses exhorting the people, with Joshua at his side, to apply his words to their hearts and to instruct their children to be careful to perform all of the words of the Torah. Torah is the lifeblood of the Jewish people, the agent that causes the nation to prolong their days in the Land of Israel. Finally, G-d uttered his last commandment to Moses, instructing him to ascend Mount Nebo in the land of Moab, which lies before Jericho. There, Moses would be able to see the Land of Canaan [Israel] that was to be given to the Jewish people as an inheritance. Afterwards, Moses would die on the mount. Even though the Jewish people would be tempted to try to prevent Moses from ascending the mountain, hoping that this would prevent his death, G-d commanded this as a decree that could not be broken.