For the week ending 15 September 2007 / 3 Tishri 5768

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.


Shabby Old Jake

“For G-d’s portion is His People; Yaakov, the measure of His inheritance…” (32:9)

The Jewish People are the only people in the world to have become a nation prior to having a land.

All other nations developed through pragmatic alliance produced by a shared culture, influenced by geography, location, and climate, which in itself shaped the deities that they worshipped. The land gave the people their identity.

Not so the Jewish People.

G-d placed us as a fully-fledged nation into a land that was already cultivated and matured by other nations.

The task of the Jewish People is to bring its spiritual, moral and social culture, fully formed by G-d, into the land, into the world. Not the reverse.

What the soil of the land is to other nations, G-d is to us. Our sustenance both physical and spiritual comes only from G-d. In their essence, the other nations’ portion is their land; in our essence, it is G-d.

“For G-d’s portion is His People; Yaakov, the measure of His inheritance…”

It is for that reason that our root-name is Yaakov and not Yisrael. Yaakov, the one who hangs onto the heel of history, who finds himself homeless and unbefriended throughout the long night of exile; Yaakov who has no chance to build himself a land, an empire, and a beautiful culture that he can worship; Yaakov, who is the pariah, the outcast and thus defines himself by one thing only — he is G-d’s inheritance.

The other nations have had no time for G-d and less for His Torah. They were too busy worshipping the gods that they believed had made them great; their motives were far from the sanctification of morals, of truth justice and love, that is both the Torah’s demand and its purpose.

So ironically, it is shabby old Yaakov, sullied and bloodied by the harshness of exile, rejected by the united nations of the world who had the privilege of becoming G-d’s inheritance in this world.

  • Adapted from Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch

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