By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant The translation of this week’s Torah Parsha (CHAYEI SARAH) is ‘The Life of Sarah’. Ironically, only the first two lines of the Parsha pertain...
It is no coincidence that this week’s Torah Parsha (HAAZINU) is read on the Shabbat following the ‘Ten Days of Repentance’. Following Yom Kippur, when we are all experiencing a heightened spiritual sensitivity, we read Moses’ final speech to the ‘Children of Israel’.
The greater part of Parsha (HAAZINU) is comprised of a seventy line ‘song’, where Moses calls on heaven and earth as witnesses to his dramatic farewell speech:
“Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; let the earth hear the words that I utter; may my discourse come down as the rain, my speech distill as the dew; like showers on young growth, like droplets on the grass” (1).
These eloquent words, filled with the imagery of nature, begin the final lecture to the people. Moses continues to speak, and impart the memories of over forty years, and before. He is reminding the ‘Children of Israel’ that they carry with them into the Land of Israel, not only that which they need to sustain them; but, also the words, history and blessings bestowed upon them since the time of Abraham and Sarah.
In this speech, Moses also expresses deep concerns, which he relates to the people: “Do not become complacent; do not provoke God’s zeal and anger with foreign deities, which you do not know; never forget the Lord your God, who delivered you” (2).
We also read a passage to inspire hope to the ‘Children of Israel’: “Remember the days of old and consider the years of ages past; ask your parents, who will inform you how God found them; how He made them a society; chose them as His own; and, bequeathed them a bountiful land” (3).
Subsequent to the High Holy Days, we are challenged to sustain that sense of heightened spirituality. When we express remorse and commit to ourselves to change, we take our relationship with God to a higher level than it was even before the transgression. The ‘negative behavior’ becomes the basis of a new, more honest and loving relationship with God.
This same dynamic holds true for sins committed by previous generations. When we see ourselves and our lives as truly remorseful for the sins of those who preceded us, we become as a living link in that chain. We can use the mistakes of our ancestors to forge a stronger relationship with God.
The greatest expression of man’s free will is not simply deciding what we will do as we move from the present towards the future. With our understanding of past transgressions, we can re-cast our ancestor’s negative behavior. This is Judaism’s true historical consciousness. It is within our power to give form and meaning, not only to the present; not only to the future; but, to the past as well.
“Remembrance is the secret to redemption” (4).
(1) DEUTERONOMY (32:1-2)
(2) DEUTERONOMY (32:16-18)
(3) DEUTERONOMY (32:7)
(4) Baal Shem (1698-1760), Ukraine