September 29, 2001 - 5762
Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL
Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Annual Cycle and Triennial Cycle III: Deut. 32:1-52; Hertz Chumash, p. 896
Haftarah: II Samuel 22:1-51; Hertz Chumash, p. 904
Deuteronomy 32:1-43 is a long poem in prophetic style known as "The Song of Moses".
(32:1-3) The opening of the poem. (4-6) Words of moral teaching contrasting the virtue of God to the wickedness of Israel.
(7-14) A review of God's goodness to Israel.
(15-18) Israel prospers and rebels against God. G-d's action, but His goal is to create an evermore loyal and observant Israel. Thus does the song explain the relationship, and in the mouth of Moses it becomes a statement of fundamental belief.
(19-25) God's punishment of Israel for breaking the covenant.
(26-33) After the punishment, God's mercy.
(34-43) God will save His people from their enemies.
(44-47) The song is read to the people and they are warned to take it to heart.
(48-52) God tells Moses to ascend Mt. Nebo, where he will view the land of Canaan and die after having beheld it.
Theme 1: Witnesses For The Defense And The Prosecution
Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the word I utter! (Deut 32:1)
- Because if (the Israelites) will be worthy, these witnesses will come and give (them) recompense: the vine will give its fruit and the earth will yield its produce, and the heavens will give their dew. But if they will be culpable, the hand of these witnesses will be against them, "And he shall shut the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the ground shall not yield her fruit (Deut. 11:17) and afterwards "ye shall quickly perish" (Rashi)
- Torah has its roots in heaven; its power is to draw everything in earth up to heaven. These two factors are dependent on each other: the more a person binds each mitzvah or teaching to its root, the greater its chances of spreading forth below as well. The greatest heights and the greatest depths depend upon each other. The purpose of this section is to explain that Israel have to uplift all corporeal and lowly things. Thus you shall never be depressed about having to concern yourself with humble or worldly matters. "The Rock, His work is perfect and all His ways are just" (Deut. 32:4) (Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger (Sefat Emet) in Arthur Green; The Language of Truth; p. 333)
What does Heaven and Earth mean to you? What would be a Jewish heaven? What is meant to be symbolized when we talk about the earth? How do you think heaven and earth would testify about humanity today? What responsibilities do they remind us of? How can our actions on earth help us to draw closer to heaven?
Theme 2: Does G-d Vascilate?
I said, I will reduce them to naught, make their memory cease among men, but for fear of the taunts of the foe, their enemies who might misjudge and say, "Our own hand has prevailed, none of this was wrought by the Lord!" (Deut. 32:26-27)
- This verse contains a very daring anthropomorphism indeed, attributing to G-d the sentiment of fear, as it were: "Were it not that I dreaded the enemy," and has no parallel in the Torah. Ibn. Ezra's attempt to weaken its force by stating that the verse speaks in human terms is totally inadequate to explain away the unusual boldness and starkness of the expression, when applied to the Sovereign of all mankind. It is the Divine purpose to raise the spiritual standards of His creatures, improve their well-being in all respects till the stage is attained when as recorded in the familiar Aleinu prayer: "All the inhabitants of the world will acknowledge and know that it is to Thee every knee must bend, and by Thee every tongue must swear." In our sidra, the Almighty, as it were, expresses concern and apprehension that this ultimate purpose would be obstructed and undermined, that, on the contrary, mankind would become further estranged from G-d by the effects of His vengeance on Israel for their misdeeds. (Nehama Leibowitz; Studies in Devarim; World Zionist Organization p. 328-329)
- G-d is depicted as ambivalent about His course of action... In Genesis, He is shown to have realized that the creation of humanity had been an error, and therefore He decided to destroy it - but not completely, Noah represents the door of compassion that G-d leaves open for himself.... In Moses's song, it is not compassion that motivates G-d; rather, it is His honor that must be protected. Israel is both endangered and saved because it is close to Him and is thereby involved in His needs as well. G-d must be seen to be G-d, and if Israel endangers His majesty it must suffer the consequences. At the same time, it will be rescued from perdition because G-d cannot allow Israel to be destroyed. The fate of the covenant people is thus forever hammered out on the anvil of history, for the ambivalence of the Divine Partner makes Israel the object both of love and of anger. The nations are the tools of G-d's action, but His goal is to create an evermore loyal and observant Israel. Thus does the song explain the relationship, and in the mouth of Moses it becomes a statement of fundamental belief. (W. Gunther Plaut; The Torah: A Modern Commentary; p. 1564)
Perhaps all of Jewish history can be summed up in this "ambivalent" G-d. G-d can't live with us or without us. What then is the cause of much of the suffering of Israel, is it G-d's dilemma or Israel's sin? While we may recognize that we can not use anthropomorphic statements about G-d, how do we use such statements today? Why do we need to compare G-d to human actions and emotions? What "fundamental belief" is being taught here?
*** Note: This completes my third year of Torah Sparks and one full triennial cycle. I would like to thank my wife Michelle for her excellent proofreading skills, Rabbi David Blumenfeld for his superb editing and for getting me started on this project. I thank the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism for giving me the opportunity to study and teach Torah. Finally, I thank the Kadosh Baruch Hu, the Blessed Holy One, for giving me the strength, knowledge and ability to complete this study. Hazak, Hazak, V'nithazek; May we grow ever stronger in Torah and may we always strengthen each other.