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Friday, September 10, 2010

Torah Commentary for Ha'azinu and Shabbat Shuva

It seems that every year Ha'azinu (Devarim/Deuteronomy 32:1-52)is a parashah that I have skipped over in my Torah commentaries. I find this fascinating, as it is such a rich portion. However, this year, as with most years, it falls on Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath of Return), which falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

So here I sit, in the midst of teshuvah/repentance, as well as leading a number of services,  trying to think about what this parashah means. I am trying my best to be mindful and in the moment, yet I find myself drawn into the future ...a week from now ... when Yom Kippur begins.  Such is life in this moment.

So I will make a brief commentary, which actually makes for a nice change of pace!

The parashah consists of Moses's final speech to the people before he is to die. It is written as a poem, and begins:

1 Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;
Let the earth hear the words I utter!
2 May my discourse come down as the rain,
My speech distill as the dew,
Like showers on young growth,
Like droplets on the grass.
3 For the name of the Lord I proclaim;
Give glory to our God!

Moses is asking the entire universe to be his witness as he is about to proclaim God's greatness and prepare the people for life after he is gone. He is facing his death and yet he asks everyone and everything to hear him proclaim why God, who is forbidding him to enter the land, is goodness itself. He further asks that his words of praise nurture the people and the earth, just as dew and rain nurture the earth. What an eloquent way to prepare to end a remarkable life!

Moses is standing in a liminal place between life and death when he begins his speech. We too are standing in such a place. We are told that the Days of Awe and our teshuvah will determine "who shall live and who shall die" in the coming year. Though this is metaphor, it is true that our actions of prayer, repentance and righteousness during this time will affect how we will live the coming year. On Yom Kippur we face our mortality. Traditionally, we wear a white garment called a kittel, as worn traditionally in death. Our lives and our souls are on the line.

Moses has an advantage over us. He knows when he is going to die, and he knows that this is all part of God's plan for him. We do not have the knowledge of when we will die, or what our life will be like until we do. However, we must also believe that whatever is, is part of God's plan for us. Not that things are predestined, but that if we live each moment to the fullest, then we are assuring that we are living as God wishes. If we have not been doing so, and there are times when we all fit into that category, then we know all we have to do is return ourselves to God and the moment and we will find that somehow we know what to do.

This is the Shabbat of Returning, it is also the Shabbat of Listening (from the opening phrase of Ha'azinu above). Let us remember to listen, to pay attention in each moment. Let us remember that in each moment we are standing between Life and Death. We must choose life. We must look at who and where we are and do teshuvah, make a simple turn, if necessary to assure that we are with God as we walk life's path.

May we allow the words of Moses, the words of God, and the words of one another, water and nourish each of us along our journey. All we must do is pay attention, be mindful, connect, love, be compassionate and just and choose life. It's easier than it may seem. Just try ... it one moment at a time.

Shabbat Shalom, Shanah tovah (a good year) and g'mar hatimah tovah (may you be 'sealed' for goodness) in the coming year.

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