A call to us to pay better attention | Parashat Ha’azinu

The Torah reading for this Shabbat, Haazinu, is a song with which Moses ends his final instructions to the Jewish People. This portion, Deuteronomy chapter 32, is read either on Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, or as is the case this year, on the Sabbath following Yom Kippur. 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. 

The song in Deuteronomy 32 itself is a reminder to Israel of God’s sovereignty and of the blessings that God has bestowed upon us. Most of us think about Yom Kippur as a day of kvetching and pleading; of asking for and granting forgiveness. Haazinu, reminds us that our Day of Atonement is also a day of At One Ment; a day for us to pause from our daily lives and give thanks to God and to our family and community for the blessings of life. 

One of the central prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is Avinu Malkeynu. Over these past two weeks we have acknowledged God as both Avinu, our parent, and Malkeynu, our Sovereign. We have pleaded for mercy and asked God to answer our petitions, while acknowledging our unworthiness. Our confessional prayers on Yom Kippur are all phrased in the plural. each of us may not be guilty of the transgressions we recite, but all of us are responsible.  

Here in Haazinu this powerful poetic conclusion to the Torah, Moses pleads for us to Really Pay Attention; to Give Ear; to both the what the prophet Elijah described in I Kings 19:13, as “Kol D’m’ma Daka,” “the still small voice of God within us” as well as the cries of God’s children, our fellow human beings all around us. 

To put it in 21st century terms, Judaism teaches us, that our prayers can be the vehicle by which we “VENMO” a first payment to God for granting each of us continued life. However, it is only through a commitment to be God’s Voice and Hands in the world, through performance of Mitzvot, that we can truly “make payments” on the debt we owe God for sealing us in The Book of Life. 

This year, as I recited “She he che Yanu” on Rosh Hashanah and will again next week on Sukkot, I am truly filled with gratitude for being alive. Expressing true gratitude personally and communally, requires each human being, to continue the metaphor of debt, to commit to “a repayment plan” on our Debt to God, by becoming better caretakers, of both the earth which God has given us as a home, and to the all too many of God’s children, who are hungry and homeless, including the refugees from Ukraine, whom our WUPJ has done so much to help over the last seven months. 

After living through the Covid-19 pandemic I find new meaning in the words of  the psalmist found in Psalm 115, which is liturgically part of the Hallel that we will recite each day on the upcoming festival of Sukot, “The dead cannot praise God, but we (the living” can bless God now and always”:

At the dawn of the new year, 5783, we all find ourselves continuing to live with limitations on life caused by the Pandemic of Covid-19 and the devastating impacts of weather events that emanate from Climate Change. As we prepare to begin anew our cycle of torah readings on Simchat Torah with reading of Genesis One I encourage all of you to join me in seriously asking the question: How can we humans do a better job as custodians of the earth which God gave us dominion over in Genesis One?  

The call of Moses in Haazinu, to pay attention and Give Ear, is, to me, a call to every one of us, to become better caretakers of the earth and better caregivers to all in need as the repetitive command in Deuteronomy to care for the widow, orphan, and stranger has re-taught us in the weeks from the depth of despair of Tisha B”Av,  to the height of joyful Thanksgiving which is the theme of Sukkot, our Festival of Thanksgiving

I invite all of you to join me in making an unbreakable vow to “Haazinu” be better listeners to the cries of those in need; to be better listeners to our family and friends; and to be better listeners to the “still small voice of God which resides within each of us. 

May the year ahead be a better year for each of us and for all of us; May each of us truly hear the call of Moses to Haazinu! Give ear and truly harken to the call of another prophet, called   Micah who taught that what God asks of each of us is both simple and profound:

Act Justly; Love Mercy; and Walk humbly with God 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.

Rabbi Neal I Borovitz | Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Avodat Shalom, New Jersey, USA


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ).