“The Rock! His deeds are perfect, yea, all his ways are just.” (Deut. 32:4)
The most frequently uttered phrase this past week in the Jewish world is probably, “I can’t believe it’s Rosh Hashana already.” This, despite hints like the daily blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) and the addition of Psalm 27 to the daily liturgy throughout the month of Elul, which precedes Rosh Hashanah. More contemporary reminders like “Jewels of Elul” abound and the Jewish media is replete with inspirational articles, recipes, and “how to” guides. How could anybody be surprised Rosh Hashana is here?
Parashat Ha-azinu provides an answer. (Ha-azinu is the last parasha (portion) to be read on a regular Shabbat morning. V’zot Habracha, the last parasha in the Torah is read only on Simchat Torah.) Ha-azinu opens with the poetry of Moses’ final speech to the Israelites and he calls upon the heavens and earth to bear witness (Deut. 32:1). And what does Moses want heaven and earth to witness? This prophecy: the Israelites will stray from God. Now, given how often the Israelites stray from God in the desert wilderness, you don’t need to be Moses to predict that for the future. And that’s exactly the point.
Moses calls upon heaven and earth, but he’s really asking the Israelites, “Are you paying attention to what’s right in front of you?” And Moses knows the answer: no. So Ha-azinu is read on Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of Repentence and Return, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as a reminder: pay attention to what is in front of you and do something about it. Don’t ignore the clues, like you do for Rosh Hashana. Now, not later.
A Gut Yohr/Shana Tova
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom