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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 includes both soaring poetic imagery describing Israel’s destiny as well as “brass tacks” narrative prose informing Moses of his impending death.  Israel’s destiny, of course, is to stray from the Torah and be punished by God.

Ha-azinu includes a most peculiar admission, though.  God states that the only reason Israel is not destroyed completely is, “But for fear of the taunts of the foe, their enemies who might misjudge and say, ‘Our hand has prevailed; none of this was wrought by the Lord.’” (Deut. 32:26-27) God is afraid of what the other nations will think and say?  This admission is unique in the Torah.

Nechama Leibowitz (1905-1997; a scholar who revolutionized the teaching of the weekly Torah portion worldwide) responds to this passage by linking it to the Aleinu prayer, which closes every Jewish worship service.  Aleinu states that the ultimate goal is for all nations to recognize God’s sovereignty.  If God destroyed the Jewish people, this goal could not be realized.

Attributing human characteristics to God is a risky business; God’s fear is not necessarily the same as human’s fear.  However, using words we are used to may be the only way we can talk about God.  The Rosh Hashana liturgy (and most of rabbinic literature) is filled with images of God described in human terms.  It’s fair to say that rather than humans being created in God’s image, we create God in our image.

Gut Yohr/Shana Tova

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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