For the week ending 18 September 2004 / 3 Tishri 5765

Parshat Ha'azinu

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Almost all of Ha'azinu is a song, written in the Torah in two parallel columns. Moshe summons the heavens and the earth to stand as eternal witnesses to what will happen if the Jewish People sin and do not obey the Torah. He reminds the people to examine the history of the world, and note how the Jewish People are rescued from obliteration in each generation - that Hashem "pulls the strings" of world events so that Bnei Yisrael can fulfill their destiny as His messengers in the world. Hashem's kindness is such that Israel should be eternally grateful, not just for sustaining them in the wilderness, but for bringing them to a land of amazing abundance, and for defeating their enemies. But, this physical bounty leads the people to become self-satisfied and over-indulged. Physical pleasures corrupt the morals of the people. They worship empty idols and powerless gods, and indulge in all kinds of depravity. Hashem will then let nations with no moral worth subjugate Israel and scatter them across the world. However, their only purpose is as a rod to chastise the Jewish People. When these nations think that it is through their own power that they have dominated Israel, Hashem will remind them that they are no more that a tool to do His will. The purpose of the Jewish People is fundamental - that man should know his Creator. Neither exile nor suffering can sever the bond between Hashem and His people, and eventually in the final redemption this closeness will be restored. Hashem will then turn His anger against the enemies of Israel, as though they were His enemies, showing no mercy to the tormentors of His people. Hashem then gives His last commandment to Moshe: That he should ascend Mount Nevo and be gathered there to his people.


Digital Torah

write this song for yourself and teach it to the Children of Israel. (31:19)

We are living in the middle of a revolution.

Little more than 20 years ago, the idea that you could link any computer in the world with any other computer was no more than the twinkle in the eye of a few gifted programmers. And today, that twinkle, with all its benefits and problems, is an everyday reality.

The digital revolution marches on, and its limits may not be reached for many years.

At the heart of the digital revolution is something called the binary code. Computers, digital cameras and scanners, CDs, DVDs, MP3s, and whatever other media are down the road, all come back to the simplest code that can be - the presence or the absence of an electric pulse; the turning on or off of a microscopic switch. Every digital device basically uses this fundamental code in ever more elaborate ways. But the root is always the same - 0 - no current or 1 - current.

The strength of digital is precisely because it is a code. Provided the original code can still be deciphered, the message can be regenerated exactly as it was originally, whether that message is a picture or a sound.

Lets take the example of Morse code. Morse code was a system of communicating widely used before radio was sophisticated enough to permit voice transmission. It consists of long and short sound pulses. For example SOS in Morse code is "... --- ... / ... --- ...", where the dots are short pulses and the dashes are long ones.

The beauty of this, and for that matter any code, is that the entire meaning of the message can be reconstructed provided that the original code is intact. It doesnt matter how much static or noise of other kind of interference surrounds the signal, provided you can tell a dot from a dash the original signal can be reconstructed perfectly.

This is not the case in an analog system. In an analog system, the medium becomes part of the message. If the medium decays, so does the message. I remember as a young boy in England listening to the inevitable surface noise of my HMV gramophone, waiting for the opening bars of the music as the record spun at the dizzying velocity of 78 rpm. 45s 33s and cassettes werent that better. (Remember 8-track cartridges?!) All these systems shared the same drawback: the medium was part of the message, the pops and scratches of needle meeting plastic or magnetic tape being shlepped across a magnet in the case of a cassette was part and parcel of the sound of music.

The digital revolution changed all that.

This whole of this weeks Torah portion is written as a song. On a deeper level, the whole Torah is called a song: Write this song and teach it to the Children of Israel.

The Torah is a book. Books are a digital medium. Provided you can make out the letters, you can recreate the original meaning of the words exactly. A book is not a painting or a photograph. Artwork is locked into the physical object itself. If it is degraded, it needs renovation if the original intentions of the artist are to be realized. Eventually, however, all physical things must rot and decay. They must end. Even the best preservation cannot go on forever. One wonders how much of the Mona Lisas enigmatic smile is still the original paint. If fact, how much to conserve, before you essentially re-create is an ongoing debate in the world of art conservation.

Words, however, are a digital medium. As long as you read the letters, the writers original creation springs to life eternally. The same is true with song. If you can read the notes, you can sing the song the way it sounded when it was first sung, devoid of the scratches and the ravages of time.

The Torah is a book. It couldnt be any other way. The Torah is a song. It couldnt be any other way.

The Torah couldnt have been a photograph. It couldnt be a painting. The Torah had to be a digital communication, for the Torah had to be handed down to the last generation with its meaning as crystal clear as it was at Sinai.

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