September 29, 2012 – 13 Tishrei 5773
Annual: Deuteronomy 32:1 – 32:52 (Etz Hayim p. 1185; Hertz p. 896)
Triennial: Deuteronomy 32:1 – 32:52 (Etz Hayim p. 1185; Hertz p. 896)
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 22:1-51 (Etz Hayim p. 1197, Hertz p. 904)
Prepared by Rabbi Joseph Prouser
Temple Emanuel of North Jersey - Franklin Lakes, NJ
Parashat Haazinu is the next-to-last Torah portion, but is the last one to be read as part of
the weekly Shabbat schedule – we read parashat V’zot hHa-Berachah during Simchat
Torah services. Parashat Haazinu consists almost entirely of a song, maybe it’s a poem,
Moses recites to the People Israel. The poem, which Israel is to learn, is intended as a
reminder of God’s justice and patience with them; that justice and patience are contrasted
with Israel’s unworthiness and disloyalty. Israel is adjured to observe the covenant and to
follow God’s laws as a primary obligation and the route to prosperity and well-being in
the Promised Land. It is to pass on both this message and the poem itself, in which heaven
and earth are called upon as witnesses, as a legacy to future generations.
Haazinu might be viewed as Moses’ swan song. The parashah concludes with a few prose
verses, God tells Moses that he is to ascend Mount Nebo, and he will be permitted to view
the Land of Israel from there. He will not be permitted to enter the Land, however, but will
die on the mountaintop.
In keeping with its poetic content, parashat Haazinu is written in accordance with a unique
scribal tradition. Its verses form two parallel columns, representing, according to one
contemporary interpretation, the pillars of strength that will be required for the nation to
confront the challenges of faith, statecraft, and nation-building that lie ahead.
Theme #1: “Forget-Thee-Not”
“You neglected the Rock that begot you, Forgot the God who brought you forth.” (Deuteronomy 32:18)
“Our rabbis taught: When God comes to deal benevolently with you, you provoke Him, thereby diminishing (matishim: a play on teshi, neglect – JHP) His power to be benevolent.” (Rashi, citing Sifrei)
“The poem turns directly to Israel and exclaims that it is guilty of the most
unnatural behavior: forgetting one’s own parent. begot… brought forth: These
Hebrew verbs may have been chosen to suggest a mother. The image of
forgetting one’s mother casts Israel’s behavior in the most unnatural light.”
(Chumash Etz Hayim)
“A figure as bold as it is beautiful. God is represented as a Father, to whom Israel owed its existence as a people; and, at the same time, as a Mother, travailing with her infant, and forever watching over it with tender affection.” (Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz)
“’The Rock that begot you’ – God created you. ‘You forgot’ – God created you
with the ability to forget so that you would be able to put out of mind all the
sufferings that may come to you. But you ‘forgot the God who brought you
forth’ – You have misused your God-given ability to forget, promptly forgetting
God who created you and who gave you this skill.” (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of
“Think of your father, Abraham. This is the meaning of ‘You neglected the Rock that begot you.’ You forgot who your father was, and therefore, you ‘forgot the God who brought you forth.’” (Korban He-Ani)
“The gravest sin for a Jew is to forget – or not to know – what he represents.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)
Questions for Discussion
Was God’s decision to debar Moses from entering the Land of Israel an act of
cruelty or kindness? Do Moses’ lapses in obedience to Divine instruction
adequately explain God’s decision? Or are Moses’ seemingly minor
transgressions merely a pretense… concealing a grander, more thoughtful,
benevolent, and providential plan?
What personal goals and aspirations, pursued for a lifetime, would you be willing
to leave unreached, if given the assurance that “others will pick up” where you
left off? Would you consider this a “blessing” (a la Mamet), a “better gift” (see
Friedberg) than personally reaching your desired destination?
How do you understand the Sifrei’s assertion that Moses had a fuller – or perhaps
more fulfilling – experience of the Promised Land than those who physically
traversed its border? In what ways can vision, belief, faith provide a more
impactful “reality” than tactile, bodily contact? Was Moses’ glimpse of the
Promised Land merely a small comfort… or the defining moment of his
What do we represent as Jews? What are the primary experiences and lessons of
our shared history that we are duty-bound to remember? What is your personal
Jewish mission statement?
How does the use of feminine imagery affect our understanding of God and our relationship to the Divine? Why is such imagery particularly apt in the present context?
A rock that gives birth? Why the mixed metaphor?
The only reference to God in the Israeli Declaration of Independence is as “the Rock of Israel.” Is that epithet purposely vague… or – given its prominence in our verse – a veiled warning not to forget the religious significance of the Jewish State?
The verb here translated as “brought you forth” implies travail, suffering… the
pain of labor, birth-pangs. How are we as Jews (especially those of us living in a
Christian majority culture) to understand the significance of a suffering God…
who endures pain on our behalf?
Have you been unduly neglectful of your “Divine Parent”? Is such forgetfulness
a recurring pattern in Jewish history? In the contemporary Jewish community?
How can we do better? How can you?
What is Rashi – and the rabbinic texts he cites – teaching us about God’s power
and goodness? How do we diminish the Divine through our forgetfulness and
inattention? Is it – conversely – within our power to enhance God’s capacity for
benevolence through our actions and attitudes?
Theme #2: “Eye on the Prize”
“You may view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter it – the land that I am giving to the Israelite people.” (Deuteronomy 32:52)
“With the very last words in the parashah, God offers Moses the small comfort of
seeing the destination of his life’s work from afar, while also reminding him that
he will not be able to savor its rewards.” (Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, The Torah: A
“Moses is told that he may not enter the Promised Land… May we not see his
exclusion as a blessing? He was, we are told, a faithful servant. How wonderful
for him, then, to be given rest in sight of his goal, but spared from the quotidian,
enervating, anguishing results attendant upon his work’s completion. Any
triumph, any absolute end must be followed by a period of emptiness, loss,
dejection, and self-doubt.” (David Mamet, Five Cities of Refuge)
“God showed Moses far and near, hidden and revealed alike – everything that is
called the land of Israel… Moses saw with his eyes more of the Land than Joshua
walked with his feet.” (Sifrei)
“Like Moses, we also learn that life as we know it ends. We do not have to finish
our life’s work, but we have a duty to be on the journey. ‘Lo alecha ham’lacha
ligmor…’ the famous jolly song from Pirke Avot goes. It isn’t up to us to finish
the work, but neither are we free to desist from it! Where we have served our
purpose, strived to fulfill our potential and lived our ideals, others will pick up
where we left off. There is eternal hope as long as we recognise our reason for
living, in understanding Divine purpose.” (Hazzan Jaclyn Chernett)
“Why doesn't Moses protest his not being able to enter the Promised Land?
Hasn't he earned it? Hasn't he ‘worked hard enough?’ Maybe. But to focus on
this issue misses the entire point… God gave Moses a better gift, something that would be fulfilled and that the Israelites, his children, would enter the Promised
Land. Think of it. What would we give to know, on our death beds, that our
children would be successful… happily married for their entire lives and die at
ripe old ages? What would we give to know that the seeds of ideas we planted
years ago would rise to fruition?” (Larry Friedberg)
Questions for Discussion
What does it say about Jewish religious experience – and about Jewish
nationalism, Zionism – that God’s chosen prophet and law-giver – the human
being with the single most intimate relationship with, and understanding of God –
never set foot in the Land of Israel?
Perhaps the darkest verse in all of parashat Ha’azinu, read on September 29,
2012, is: “The sword shall deal death without, As shall the terror within, To
youth and maiden alike, The suckling as well as the aged” (32:25). On
September 29, 1941 – 71 years ago today – Nazis engaged in wholesale murder,
carrying out the infamous massacres at Babi Yar. 33,771 Jews were killed in the
initial attack, considered the largest single massacre in the history of the
The obligation to dwell in a Sukkah for seven days is prescribed in Deuteronomy
16:13. Rabbi David Golinkin surveys a corresponding seven different reasons or
explanations for this observance: 1) To thank God for a bountiful harvest, citing
Exodus 23:16; 2) To remember and re-enact the experience of our ancestors
during the Wilderness Period; 3) To demonstrate how far we have progressed
since our humble origins – to remember the “bad old days” and (according to
Philo) thereby to generate a sense of gratitude; 4) As an exercise in humility
(citing Rashbam): we are reminded that ultimately we owe our “harvest” and
even our homes to God, not to any exclusive efforts of our own; 5) According to
Menorat Ha-Maor, to subject ourselves to the elements and thereby fortify our
faith in God; 6) According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, as a symbol of
peace and brotherhood; 7) “To subject ourselves to the whims of nature and
thereby remember the poor in our season of joy.”