Parshat Haazinu: Deuteronomy 32:1-52; II Samuel 22:1-51.
By Rabbi Mitch Parker
“Let the skies hear as I speak; let the Earth listen to the words of my mouth. May my message descend as the rain; may my speech distill as the dew.”
These are Moses’ last remarks as he calls upon the heavens and the Earth to witness his final testament to the Israelites. He probably asks for their witness not only because they are eternal but also because they are a daily part of the lives of the Israelites. What might Moses call upon to attest to his words today? Our cell phones set to record?
The children of Israel were very tied to the land. They counted their wellbeing in sheep and goats, and they considered themselves blessed when the rains fell at the appointed times. Many teachings in the Tanach are based on, referenced or explained in terms of the flora and fauna of the land.
We, unlike our ancestors, are largely divorced from nature unless we make a special effort to connect. For instance, how many degrees of separation are there between the produce we buy in the grocery store and the seeds that originally created them?
Our points of reference are very different from those of our ancestors. When we think about weighty matters, our preference is often to intellectualize, cogitate and consider at an abstract level. Our thoughts are often lofty, not on or related to what is on or in the ground.
The holy days of Rosh Hashanah, which have just passed, are similarly largely intellectual pursuits. On Rosh Hashanah, we are asked to think about God’s grandeur. The only tangible mitzvah of these days is the ram’s horn. Hearing the sound of the shofar, not the horn itself, is the essence of the commandment. On Yom Kippur, we are warned to repent, an intellectual act, and consider our own mortality. It is largely a day of important words and ideas.
Sukkot, conversely, is all about the land and its produce. We are commanded to live in and build sukkot, the roofs of which must be made of natural materials. We collect, hold, shake and march with four natural species, all of which have an intimate connection with water.
On the final day of Sukkot, on Hoshana Rabba, we bend down, willows in hand, and beat them on the ground watching as the leaves fall to the ground, perhaps to encourage the rains of autumn and winter.
This year, Haazinu, which we read on the Shabbat between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, marks the transition between the worlds of the mind and of nature. This little parshah, one of the shortest of the year, helps us renew the connection between what we think of as the higher faculties with the land upon which our survival depends.
Rabbi Mitch Parker is the rabbi at B’nai Israel Synagogue in West Bloomfield.