Torah Weekly - Parshat Ha'azinu
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Most of Parshat Ha'azinu is a song, written in the Torah in two parallel columns. Moshe summons heaven and earth to stand as eternal witness 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 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 Jewish People's purpose 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.
THIS IS YOUR LIFE
"Be careful to perform all the words of this Torah,
for it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life." (32-44)
Life is about sorting out what's essential from what's merely "nice."
It's essential to have a roof over your head. It's nice to have a view from your bay windows. When you buy a car, it's essential to have four wheels. It's nice to have air-conditioning front and back.
One of the challenges of living in our world is sorting out life's essentials from its optional extras. This is made even more difficult by the fact that there is an entire industry dedicated to convincing us that life's optional extras are really essentials. "Can you afford to be without X?!" "Y will change your life!" "Buy Z and you will never be alone again!" The essence of advertising is to convince us that life's optional extras are its essentials.
In this week's Torah portion there is a verse that contains a strange counterpoint: "Be careful to perform all the words of this Torah, for it is not an empty thing for you -- for it is your life."
There's a long way between being an "empty thing" and life itself. The natural corollary of an "empty thing" isn't life, it's something which is something less than empty, something partially full, containing some meaning -- but life itself? There are a million levels of importance between emptiness and life. Why did the Torah choose such a dramatic juxtaposition?
Most people would agree that the Torah is far from "empty." The Torah is the foundation of the moral and judicial systems of the vast majority of the civilized world. Its emphasis on the rights of the poor, of the underprivileged, of animals, of the duties of children to parents, husbands to wives, of society to its members, is unparalleled in the history of Mankind. But the Torah is more than just meaningful. It is the source of life itself. When G-d created the world, He looked into the Torah. The matrix of human life are its letters and words.
"It is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life." The Torah is not merely "not an empty thing," it is not merely an admirable and advisable code of behavior. It is Life itself.
- Based on an idea heard from Rabbi C. Z. Senter
in the name of Rav Sherkin in the name of the Chafetz Chaim
Haftara Shabbat Shuva
Hoshea 14:2-10, Yoel 2:11-27, Micha 7:18-20
A BURNING SENSATION
An unbelievable sight. A young fellow with all the visible signs of an Orthodox Jew walks into MacTreife's Burger Bar and orders a cheeseburger! He then proceeds to eat it in full view of everyone.
Later he suffers tremendous heartburn from the indigestible fast-food. Much later, however, he suffers an even greater "burn" in the spiritual department.
The Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of Return. The name is taken from the first verse of the Haftara: "Return O Israel to Hashem for you have stumbled in your iniquity."
The Meshech Chochma asks the question: What does it mean to "stumble" in iniquity? If a person is already doing something wrong, how can he make it worse by stumbling in it?
There are two aspects to wrongdoing. The offense itself and the desecration of Hashem's name that may result from it.
It's one thing for a Jew to slink into MacTreife's in "plain-clothes." It's quite another to waltz in wearing full uniform, yarmulke and all. It's one thing to commit iniquity, to give in to one's desires, but it's quite another to stumble and desecrate Hashem's name in public.
Selections from classical Torah sources
which express the special relationship between
the People of Israel and Eretz Yisrael
Ever wonder at the meaning of the name of this northernmost city, which was always in the news because of katyusha attacks from terrorists in Lebanon?
Back in 1920, Josef Trumpaldor, founder of the Hechalutz pioneer movement in Russia, died along with seven other Jews defending the Tel Hai encampment against Arab hordes. The base for this attack was the small Arab village of Halsa. On its site now stands Kiryat Shemona ("The City of Eight") as a memorial to the eight heroes of Tel Hai.
Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow
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