Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 12 September 2020 / 23 Elul 5780

Faith in Fortune

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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As prelude to the final song (Haazinu), Moshe foretells of the nation’s defection from Torah, and its consequences. He explains the effect the song may have on these occurrences. When the nation will “eat, be satisfied and grow fat” and turn to other gods and serve them — then, after the tzarot (troubles) will come to pass, the song of Haazinu will testify against them as a witness.

Notice the factors that bring about defection — the nation will eat, be satisfied and grow fat. The case of defection is the luxury that comes from the abundance of everything good. The spiritual and moral regimen by which the Torah sanctifies physical corporeality is not compatible with lush, self-indulgent sensuality.

This is the rock on which Israel’s faithfulness, and hence also its happiness, have been wrecked several times. This is the ultimate task that Israel must fulfill: To be faithful to G-d and to His Torah, even in the midst of affluence and good fortune. This is a vision that will be realized only when we are ripe for our final redemption. Then, prosperity will come to us without endangering our spiritual health.

However, until such time, the message of the song of Haazinu will play a significant role in maintaining the focus necessary to get our spiritual bearings. As a result of its defection, Israel will be plagued by many sufferings — tzarot, literally, that which confines and constricts. Their effect will be to constrict insatiable desire and restore a person (or nation) unto himself. The people will then be ripe to hear the message of the shirah: Instead of blaming G-d for its fate, the people will understand that its fate is the consequence of its waywardness.

This understanding will penetrate in a process described in the Torah: You will bring [these thoughts] to your heart (Devarim 30:1). It is not enough to perceive facts and events on the outside. These must be “brought back” to the inner mind to reflect upon them and draw the appropriate conclusions. The blessing and curses that will befall the Jewish People, foretold thousands of years in advance, will be taken to heart — brought back to the inner mind to deliberate and reflect on them, leading to a full return to G-d and His Torah.

  • Sources: Commentary, Devarim 31:21-22, 30:1

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