Parashat Ha'azinu

Entering The Void

In his final speech, Moses warns us against repeating his mistakes, but he also communicates the passion and love we need to achieve our potential.

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How can the ability to separate a role from a person, as in honoring one's parents despite their mistakes, strengthen individual and societal life?

Do you agree with Kluger that “a person lives eternally through the Torah?” Did Moses achieve this?

D'var Torah

We come now to Moses' final words. Moses stands at the edge of his life, ready to accept the isolation of the present moment. He seeks the rapt attention of all that is around him--the heavens, the earth, the elements, the nations of the world, certainly Israel, and most certainly God.

As an adult, I have never been able to read this text without recalling the famous opening line of the speech by Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”

Mark Antony’s purpose in delivering his speech is very different from the one he claims to have in the opening line: What he is set on doing is instilling a sense of shame in his audience for the betrayal of greatness, for the besmirching of Caesar’s name. Moses, too, has a very different purpose for his speech than simply to praise God.

Moses wants to give the people a distillation of everything he has learned over the course of his eventful life. He wishes to provide the Israelites with the greatest of impossibilities--a degree of certainty in their fragile lives. In this moment, when he is approaching the end of his life, he seeks to leave behind some assurance for his spiritual children that if they avoid the mistakes he has made, they will attain an intimate relationship with the divine territory that he has been denied.

So what does remain for us, the generations that have followed, the children that have been taught? Surely not the ability to avoid the mistakes our forebears have made. Over and over again, we continue to commit the same ones. Just like our ancestors, we overstep boundaries, engage in excess, remain overly attached to old successes, and often fail to live in our present experience. As a result, we are left hungry and thirsty, with a need to acquire things and to fill the void within us with possessions and activities.

But Moses has yet another lesson for us--one that can quench our thirst and provide us with a balm for our pain. He offers us the opportunity to connect with the passion that he expresses in this magnificent poem. Like Moses, we can understand how much the earth, the young trees, and the grass yearn for moisture. We can reflect on our own complacency and comprehend how misguided we have been. We can look out into a future that is far beyond our reach and see and love the generations that will follow.

Then we can turn to the Torah, consider the roles we were meant to play, and find a way to transform the empty thirsty beings that we have been into ones worthy of populating a land flowing with milk and honey.

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Susan Friedman is the rabbi of Beth Shalom, Cary, N.C.