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Parashat Ha-azinu (Deuteronomy 23:1-32:52)

“For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his own allotment (Deut. 32:9)

Parashat Ha-azinu is the next-to-last parasha, or portion, in the Torah. It is read either right before or right after Yom Kippur, a period of introspection and reflection. Ha-azinu describes God’s greatness and Israel’s stubborness. It is both hard and easy to relate to. Hard, because it opens with a long poem using archaic vocabulary and obscure grammar forms (even by Biblical standards!). Easy, because the poetry’s symbolic imagery and language play create their own emotional impact.

Because it is a poem, Ha-azinu appears in the Torah in two columns. This visual image hints at one of Ha-azinu’s more subtle messages: the “action” in the text isn’t in the opposites listed (heaven and earth, past and present, good and evil, sacred and profane) but rather, in discerning the connection between them.

Ha-azinu gives a clue to this when it states (ironically, in its prose section): “For this is not an empty thing from you; it is your life; through it you shall long endure on the land that you are to possess upon crossing the Jordan.” (Deut. 32:47) The rabbis interpret the odd grammar of “from you” to mean the Torah is never empty on its own. If it seems empty, it’s because you have not brought meaning to it (Jerusalem Talmud Peah 1:1, 15b); the Torah’s meaning is a function of your relationship with it. Just as the People of Israel need the Torah, the Torah needs the People of Israel. Ha-azinu is asking what meaning will we bring to the world around us by “connecting the dots” in our lives?

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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