For the week ending 26 September 2020 / 8 Tishri 5781

Parashat Haazinu

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Most of the portion of Ha'azinu is a song, written in the Torah in two parallel columns. Moshe summons heaven and earth to stand as eternal witnesses to what will happen if the Jewish People sin. He reminds the people to examine world history 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 Hashem's messengers.

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 their morals. They will worship empty idols and indulge in depravity. Hashem will then let nations with no moral worth subjugate Israel and scatter them across the world. However, the purpose of these nations 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 than a tool to do His will.

The purpose of the Jewish People is to make mankind aware of the Creator. Neither exile nor suffering can sever the bond between Hashem and His people, and in the final redemption this closeness will be restored. Hashem will then turn His anger against the enemies of Israel. Hashem then gives His last commandment to Moshe: That he ascend Mount Nevo and be gathered there to his people.


Granny's Tales

“Yeshurun became fat and kicked.” (32:15)

Last week I mentioned that one of the great things about having been part of Ohr Somayach for around three decades is that I have met some people who are clearly living on a different level than the rest of us. One of these holy souls distilled the essence of one’s relationship with one’s fellow into three principles. His first principle: “I was created to serve others, and no one was created to serve me.” The second principle: “I wouldn’t do it to you. But if you do it to me — it’s okay.” I said that this doesn’t mean that a person should be a doormat and invite the world to trample on him, but, post facto, if you did something to me that I could really take you to court for and get back at you for, and I give up on that — I get forgiven for all of my sins. And his third principle: "Whatever I do for you is never enough; whatever you do for me is more than I deserve."

In Yiddish there's an expression called “bubbe maisos” — literally “Granny's tales.” Sometimes, bubbe maisos are just that — stories and ideas without foundation. But sometimes they reflect a wisdom that comes from our Sages. In this particular case, the Rabbi of whom I speak heard the statement "Whatever I do for you is never enough; whatever you do for me is more than I deserve" from his grandmother (Gittel bas Yitzchok Dov HaLevi, a”h). It just so happens that virtually the same idea is found in Mesechet Derech Eretz Zuta, perek beit, for there it says, “If you did much good, let it be in your eyes as a little. And if they did you a little good, let it be in your eyes as a lot."

“Yeshurun became fat and kicked.”

This verse is preceded by the most beautiful and poetic description of how Hashem cared for and guarded the Jewish People in the desert. When a person feels he deserves something, whatever he gets will seem but little in his eyes and he will end up denying his benefactor. Even Yeshurun, which means “the straight one,” will be turned aside and start to “kick” if his appreciation is not greater than his appetite.

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