For the week ending 30 September 2006 / 8 Tishri 5767

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 G-d "pulls the strings" of world events so that Bnei Yisrael can fulfill their destiny as His messengers in the world. G-d'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. G-d 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, G-d 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 G-d and His people, and eventually in the final redemption this closeness will be restored. G-d 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. G-d then gives His last commandment to Moshe: That he should ascend Mount Nevo and be gathered there to his people.


Living For Kicks

“And Yeshurun became fat and kicked.”

There once was a farmer who fed his calf so that it would have strength to pull the plow. As he was entering the stable one day the calf turned round and gave him a strong kick. “From where did you get the strength to give me such a kick?” asked the farmer. “From the food you gave me!”

Prosperity is a dangerous thing. When a person gets to live off the fat of the land, he can easily forget Who it is that fed him. The Torah calls the Jewish people here by the name Yeshurun. This name is connected to the word yashar, meaning “straight”. It’s not by coincidence that the Torah chooses this name here, for nothing can bend the straightness of the heart more than luxury and physical indulgence.

Yeshurun is also linked to the word shur, meaning “to see”. When Yeshurun became fat, it kicked: The clarity of sight that the Jewish People had at Sinai becomes blurred when it focuses on the pleasure of this world.

Material comfort is dangerous in two ways: It can make us believe that we are legends in our own lunchtimes, brilliant wheeler-dealers, talented and foresighted. It’s all too easy to forget that everything in life is a present. A poor person has no illusions from where his bread comes; he sees that without G-d he could not survive.

The pursuit and the maintenance of an affluent life style has another pitfall. It’s very time consuming. It fills our waking hours, leaving us little time for spirituality. How often during our daily silent prayers do we find minds wandering; we review our day, our lives, our wants and our problems! The more we have, the more we want. The more we want, the more time we need to think about how to get what we want and how to keep hold of what we have amassed.

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shuva, “The Shabbat of Return”. Shabbat contains within it the power of the events of the following week. Thus it contains within it the power of the twenty-four fast of Yom Kippur. Since Shabbat is a day of pleasure, of eating, how can it contain its opposite?

On Shabbat, we have the opportunity to take this physical world and, rather than use it for own aggrandizement, we can elevate it to the service of our Creator.

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