For the week ending 7 September 2013 / 3 Tishri 5774

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.


I May Be Meshuga, But I’m No Idiot

“You ignored the Rock Who gave birth to you, and forgot G-d Who brought you forth.” (32:18)

It’s amazing how you see a whole different side to people when you lend them money. Some people surprise you at how punctilious they are. Others you would have thought to be beyond reproach prove to be less than trustworthy.

There once was a man who had borrowed a large sum of money. When the time came to repay it he had no way of returning the sum. He was beside himself with anxiety and approached an old friend with his problem. Said the friend, “You know what you do? When the creditor comes for your money, look at him as though you never saw him before. Let your mouth loll open and your tongue droop out. Roll your eyes around a bit and twitch from time to time. Look straight through him as though he wasn’t there. In other words, pretend to be meshuga!”

“That’s a great idea!”

Several weeks later the two friends met again. “How did it go with your creditor?” “I did just like you said. When the creditor came for his money, I looked at him as though I never saw him before. I let my mouth loll open and my tongue droop out. I rolled my eyes around a bit and twitched from time to time. I looked straight through him as though he wasn’t there. He thought I’d gone meshuga! It worked like a dream! That was such a great idea! I can’t thank you enough. By the way, do you think you could lend me a thousand dollars for six months?”

“Sure. No problem.”

Six months later the friend arrived at the door for his money. He knocked on the door. There was a dull animal scratching-sound coming from inside. The door creaked open a little and inside he could see his friend, the debtor. His mouth was lolling open and his tongue had drooped out. His eyes were rolling and he twitched now and then. His eyes were vacant, looking beyond him as though he wasn’t there.

“You really are meshuga. It’s me, you idiot!”

Most of us think of forgetfulness as a curse. As the years roll by, our memories tend to become less and less efficient. In old age it’s common to remember what happened in our youth as though it were yesterday, but what happened yesterday — that’s another matter.

But forgetfulness is not a curse. If it were not for forgetfulness we would never be able to survive life’s disappointments, much less a tragedy. G-d gave us forgetfulness as a gift. Through the blessing of forgetfulness we are able to pick ourselves up and carry on with the business of living.

Of all his sons, Yaakov Avinu loved Yosef the most. Yaakov’s favoritism provoked the brothers’ jealousy. Eventually this jealousy led to them selling Yosef into slavery. The brothers took Yosef’s coat and dipped it in blood and brought it back to their father Yaakov. Yaakov supposed that Yosef had been devoured by a wild animal and torn to pieces. He rent his clothes and mourned for his son, and despite all that his other sons and daughters could do, Yaakov was literally inconsolable. He said that he would go down to the grave mourning his son.

G-d decreed that there is consolation only over those who have passed from this world. No such decree exists for those who are still alive. This is why Yaakov was inconsolable. Consolation is only for the bereft, and Yosef was still alive and well and living in Egypt.

In this week’s Torah portion it says, “You ignored the Rock Who gave birth to you, and forgot G-d Who brought you forth.”

Forgetfulness is a blessing that G-d gives us so that we can pick up our lives and go on living even after a tragedy. If we could never forget, we could not go on living. If time didn’t soften our pain, life would be unbearable.

G-d gave us forgetfulness as a gift. When we take that gift and pretend not to recognize Him, then we are really meshuga.

  • Sources: The Dubner Maggid as heard from Rabbi Mordechai Pitom

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