Haazinu – הַאֲזִינוּ (Deuteronomy 32:1–52)
This Week’s Torah Portion: Haazinu – הַאֲזִינוּ (Deuteronomy 32:1–52)
Moses is about to die. Out of his mouth comes an urgent call, a final and dramatic theological poem, a powerful cry of the heart. Moses wants to ensure his community understands the core principles of what it means to be an Israelite. In the final moments of his life, Moses calls to the heavens above and the generations to come, expressing his own theology in eloquent and passionate elegy. Moses describes God as a softer presence in this song. Moses describes God as rain and dew, like the wind, a rock that is true and faithful. The medieval commentator Rashi teaches that these expressions are a poetic description of Torah as the source of life. Just as the grass needs the rain and the dew, so do we need the words of Torah.  Moses uses the word כשעירים that describes both God as rain, and also holds the meaning “stormy wind.” Midrash comments on this wordplay: “How is it with the winds? They strengthen the herbage and promote their growth! So, too, the words of the Torah promote the moral growth of those who study them.” God’s words not only nurture and sustain us, but they challenge us and make us stronger.
Moses furthers, singing of God as One of Justice, Fairness, a Parent- a Nurturer, an Eagle. Moses ascribes these descriptions of God as a counterpoint to the people of Israel. This is a passionate reminder that if God is our wise parent, we are the naive children in need of direction and foundation from Torah. s If God is “an eagle in the vast desert wasteland,” we are God’s eaglets, God’s children in need of care and guidance. In this season of Teshuva, this concept is important for us to remember. The words of Yehuda HaLevi, 13th century medeival poet, remind us that while we yearn for God who seems distant and hidden, the moment we “reach out for” God, we find God reaching out for us at the same time. We can make mistake after mistake after mistake. Yet, time and again, we need only to stretch out our hand toward God, and God will turn toward us. On paper this is a simple act; in reality we know this dance might take years of practice. Moses’ speech opens up the pathway for this practice through Joshua’s leadership and for the people of Israel’s continued connection to God and Judaism.
Moses’ song confirms Judaism’s connection not only to religious and legal doctrines, but also to a God that is part of a metaphysical reality extending from creation to all of eternity. When we are lost and afraid, as we become when Moses leaves us, we remember the everlasting nature of God; that divine presence which existed through Moses, and will continue to exist far beyond him, and all of us mortal creatures. We will be ok not because Moses is there to guide us, but because God (through Moses, through future prophets, and through our acts of bringing God’s light into the world) has always been and will continue to be an invisible presence: nurturing when needed, challenging when appropriate, always striving for justice, fairness and truth.
The word Haazinu, the name of this parsha holds the root ’הזן’which shares the foundation for the root Hazon and Hazzan. Hazon meaning vision, and Hazzan meaning sacred musician. Chazzanim (cantors!) in fact, are visionary song weavers. In this final song, the prophet Moses leaves everything on the table: his vision for his people, his beliefs about his purpose and the purpose of the people of Israel, even about the purpose of God and of the existence and purpose of this world. Moses’ song is a gift for all generations. When we sing we can begin to connect with the larger questions of our existence. What is your vision as we enter this new year? What is the legacy you hope to leave for the future?