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Drash on Ha’azinu 2023

Rabbi Benjamin Meijer Verbrugge

United Indonesian Jewish Community

The 70-line song that Moses sang to the Israelites on his final day on earth makes up the majority of the Torah reading for Ha’azinu (“Listen In”). Moses urged the people to “remember the old days, consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will tell it to you / your elders, and they will tell you” how the Eternal One “found them in the desert land,” made them a nation, chose them as His own, and left them a fruitful land. He did this by citing heaven and earth as witnesses.

The hymn also foreshadows the dangers of excess—”Yeshurun grew fat and kicked, You have grown fat, thick and fat. He forsook the G-d who made him and rejected the Rock of his salvation”—and the dreadful catastrophe that would occur, which Moses compared to God “hiding His face.” But in the end, he asserted, God would exact retribution for the death of His servant and make peace with His people and territory.

Lessons from the parashat Ha’azinu :

1.       Respect for divine justice

This makes me recall of the high belief ridha in G-d’s sovereignty. This is a concept that is embraced by most Moslems in Indonesia which speaks of an acceptance for whatever is.

God’s confession of faith: “The Rock, whose works are perfect, for all his ways are just,” proves that He is trustworthy and that there is no dishonesty in Him.” Moshe asserts that God is always correct in every decision, regardless of whether our limited common sense concurs or disagrees. (Deut. 32:4). To express his acceptance on G-d’s sovereignty, Moshe was told in Deut.  32:3 to call on the name of God in every circumstance. His Jewish Ridha paradigm continues to influence Jewish tradition today. Since this occasion, the Jewish custom of saying “Thank God” when we look to the past and “With His Help” when we look to the future has continued. God enters into discourse whenever His name is invoked.

2.       The key to success is understanding the past.

Moshe analyzes and remembers every historical event, including those from earlier eras, years, and generations as well as from his parents and elders, in order to enjoy the benefits that will ensure his survival both now and in the future. Victory and success are only available from God (32:27–31). Your self-awareness of the source of success and victory will improve your relationship with Him, and you’ll be able to fully experience each success and win.

A toddler would not be able to walk or jump if he never tripped and fell. He stumbled, not because he was stupid, but because he didn’t know how to walk and jump properly. His tenacity, social support, and regular self-training helped him learn a lot about failure and how it doesn’t have to be negative or damage one’s potential. Failure is the best teacher. Long jumpers must take numerous steps backwards in order to make a longer distance jump.

3.       TORAH , our guidance of life, refers to the past and the future.

This reality is dramatized by Moses’ goodbye song, which is found in Parashat Ha’azinu, by looking into the future. The parashah before it introduces it as a witness for Israel in the far future (Deut 32:19–21).

The word Torah itself is translated as “law” in the majority of English translations of the Hebrew Bible. This translated dates back as far as the Greek translation of the Bible, where the word torah is translated as nomos, the Greek word for law. With the exception of history, law is never given in Israel. It is connected to the past. This mixing of history and the legal system, however, ends with Deuteronomy.

When someone says, “He lives his life according to the Torah,” most people assume that they generally follow its laws. Regardless of what you may have learned from history, Nehemiah 8–10 describes how the Torah is read to the people in its entirety and how they respond by carrying out its precepts. Even though it finishes with Deuteronomy, where the law does, the Torah has already been given and is meant to be followed (Josh 1:7-8). Joshua’s own text is devoid of any laws. Normally, there aren’t any new laws added in Joshua or the rest of the Hebrew Bible. The laws were established for us by history, and they reflect the direction we ought to go.

May HaShem always bless you and me in this new year. Wish you all Shana Tova Umetuka.

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