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

 “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; let the earth hear the words I utter” (Deut. 32:1)

Parashat Ha-azinu is the last parasha (portion) to be read on a regular Shabbat morning. That is because V’zot Habracha, the last parasha of the Torah, is read only on Simchat Torah. Ha-azinu is a poem that summarizes the themes of the first section of Deuteronomy: God’s greatness and Israel’s stubbornness.

The opening words of Ha-azinu (seea above) call upon the heavens and earth to bear witness to Moses’ words. But the Kotzker Rebbe (1787-1859; a Chassidic rabbi and leader) inverts the relationship and reads the verse as an instruction to the Israelites to, “Listen to heavenliness.” But what is it we are supposed to listen to?

Ha-azinu describes God in absolute terms: “The Rock-God’s deeds are perfect, Yea, all God’s ways are just…” (Deut. 32:4) We know, however, this contradicts the Biblical narrative.  Time and again God responds to Moses’ pleas on behalf of the Israelites and doesn’t mete out justice, but offers mercy instead. The idea of a perfectly just God also stands in opposition to a central message of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. Even though Yom Kippur is known as Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, the liturgy is filled with references to God’s mercy. In fact, the entire premise of Yom Kippur is that God is anxious to offer mercy instead of judgment and looks for any reason to do so.

Maybe this is the heavenliness the Kotzker Rebbe wants us to listen to. In the coming year, instead of always being ready to judge others, maybe we should be looking for reasons to offer mercy instead.

 Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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