If you were charged with writing Moshe’s final ode, what would you say, and to whom would you address it? A personal plea? A national request? A reminder of the high points of our history? A retelling of our low points? Moshe takes an interesting structural tack. He addresses the song to timeless heaven and earth, and likens his words to water, a classic metaphor for Torah. He then follows a symbolic chronology of Israel’s past, present and future. They were nourished by G-d in the past, will stray from the Divine in the present and near future, then head toward ultimate redemption in generations to come. Ha’azinu works on two simultaneous time lines. The first lasts from Creation forever; the second runs for the duration of our time here as a people, until Mashiach comes (however it is you want to understand that…). The universal mechanics which comprise Heaven and Earth predated and will outlast us. Our relatively limited time in our mortal sphere is significantly more limited.
Moshe’s song, however, gives us the tools to expand our term as residents from the moment on the sixth day when we were created at twilight, to the moment or era of Redemption. It is a song/poem which reminds us that strengths and weaknesses, blessings and curses, productivity and laziness, are all endemic to humanity. As we close out the High Holiday season, we all have realized that none of us is infallible; individually and as a group, we all are subject and likely to make missteps. The fundamental question, and invariably why this parsha always lands where it does, either just before or just after Yom Kippur, is this: what have we learned? Have we gained better tools to fix our problems, personally, locally, or globally, to avoid the abandonment which G-d describes in the middle section of Ha’azinu? Must we suffer in order to learn our lessons? Do we have the ability to jump the line, and pick up the story at its redemptive conclusion? One verse jumps out at me. “They are a generation of reversals, children without faith within them (Deuteronomy 52:20).” There’s the key. If we can teach ourselves and our children how to behave responsibly, equitably, fairly, and Divinely, then yes, we have the ability to achieve redemption. If we continue to tolerate or through our silence permit the forces of adversity to gain traction in our world, then we diminish our chances of being able to merit the World to Come.
I can’t tell you what the next incarnation of humanity will be like. I also can’t promise you what you need to do in order to help our fragile planet and its more fragile inhabitants achieve it. I can tell you that we’re clearly not doing enough. As I write this, the number of people who lost their lives due to aggression, human-induced climate change, nationalistic aspirations, or local conflicts, just over the past 48 hours, is staggering.
Moses was instructed to write, teach, and sing Ha’azinu as a way of bring us back should we lose our path.
If we start paying attention, let us pray that this is one song which we can ultimately sing in the past tense, instead of it being a plea to ensure our future.
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen