The Torah reading for this Shabbat, Haazinu, is a song with which Moses ends his final instructions to the Jewish People. (…) Haazinu is an unusual Hebrew term for the command Listen, which is usually expressed by the word Sh’ma. In the King James Bible, Haazinu is translated as “Give me your ear”, which Shakespeare appropriated in his play Julius Caesar. Both the Biblical term Haazinu and Shakespeare’s usage of it are literary ways to call upon the reader and listener to pay special attention to what is to follow.
At 30 verses, Vayeilech is the shortest Torah portion. In it, Moses delivers an encouraging message to the Israelites, while acknowledging he will be unable to join them in the Promised Land. He says in Deuteronomy 31:12, “I am now one hundred and twenty years old.” For many people, old age is the ideal time for retrospection.
As Deuteronomy winds down and we prepare for the New Year, 5783 the sacred pages of Torah Moses remind us that we are standing, still standing, before Adonai our God. This is no small accomplishment, to still be on our feet after all we have endured.
We are in days of self-assessment of how we conducted ourselves in the face of the challenges that the world has imposed on us in the last 12 months. We already experience teshuva days – not days of repentance, but of evaluating how we reacted to what we lived.
Parsha Ki Teitze, embedded in the context of the final speeches of Moses, entreating the Children of Israel to follow the laws of the covenant when they enter Canaan, contains no less than 72 of those laws. It covers a wide array of topics, some of which resonate strongly with us today and others which might leave us scratching our heads quizzically.
The Torah is an interesting and complex social, political and ethical document. Sometimes its demands (or rather God’s demands) seem downright mean-spirited, petty and incredibly chauvinistic. (…) Then seemingly in the very midst of our foundational struggles wandering in the desert as we wrestle with the challenges of fashioning ourselves into a spiritual civilization that will become “the Jewish people,” we come upon Torah portions like this one – Shoftim.
God tell us in chapter seven verse six in Deuteronomy that we are an “AM Kadosh” and an “AM Segula” which means a holy people and a treasure to God. When I meditate on these two words Kadosh and Segula, I think more about the question of what does God want me to be like? How shall I feel about myself when I participate in the world of being holy and performing mitzvoth?
Feeling like we’re caught in a vise, making it hard sometimes to breathe, or think, or plan, it’s natural that we would turn to Torah for help and relief. But then we come face to face with what we read this Shabbat in Ekev, the third parashah of the Book of Deuteronomy.
Two modes of relationship have a long history within Judaism: we should fear a God that can destroy a world (yirat shamayim) or love a God that has created one (ahavat haShem). But which works best? Did the Israelites really only accept the mitzvot at Mt. Sinai because God held the mountain over their heads and threatened to drop it if they didn’t say yes?
In the nature of things, in the cycle of life and barring tragic exceptions – which do occur – then a parent will die before a child. We all know of some of the exceptions, of illnesses and wars and accidents and acts of violence, but nevertheless, on the whole we assume that the rule is that the parents will create the child, will raise the child, will teach the child all that they can in whatever circumstances they find themselves, from infancy through childhood to adolescence to young adulthood and possibly even beyond.