Shabbat Commentary

25/26 Sept: Shabbat Shuva: starts 6:38pm, ends 7:37 pm

Yom Kippur: starts 6.33pm  27 Sept; ends 7.32pm 28 Sept

The leadership of Moses is bookended by his songs: the Song of the Sea, and the Song of Moses. Moses first led his people in song after leading them through the split sea. The Song of the Sea, therefore, is appropriately triumphant and celebratory. In Parashat Ha’azinu, Moses sings a very different song. He is now at the end of his leadership, and is preparing for his own death, before the Children of Israel enter the Promised Land.

The Song of Moses is a haunting and powerful warning about the necessity of staying true to our covenant with the Divine.Moses’ final song begins with a call to the heavens and the earth to act as witnesses, and then states (Deuteronomy 32:2): “May my teaching come down like the rain, my word distill like the dew, like showers upon young growth, like raindrops upon grass.” It is a beautiful image: Torah nourishing the world like the rains, linking the witness above (the heavens) to the witness below (the earth).

In Sifrei D’varim (306:31-32), the Midrash claims that the Torah is compared to nourishing waters due to the fact that the same rains yield different results. First, the Midrash describes the rains bringing different flavours: “May my teaching come down like the rain: Just as rain is one, and falls upon  the trees and grants each its own flavour – to the grapevine, according to its nature; to the olive tree, according to its nature; to the fig tree, according to its nature – so too words of Torah are all one, and yet they yield Scripture, Mishnah, Halachah, and Aggadah.” It is one of the wonders of our tradition that one single verse of Torah can give us a library of literature, from the legal to the legendary. It is no small wonder that we are able to reread the Torah every year and discover ever more from its depths. In the words of Ben Bag-Bag (Pirkei Avot 5:26): “Turn it and turn it, for everything is within it.”

The Midrash continues with a second lesson: “Like the showers upon the young growth: Just as these showers descend upon the grass and cause them to grow, some green, some red, and some white, so too words of Torah produce teachers, worthy people, sages, righteous people, and pious people.” One Torah yields a great variety of teachings, and also a great variety of learners. The aim of the Torah is not to make us uniform; it is to nourish us to be the best students of Torah we can be, and to contribute to our communities with our own talents and passions.

Moses’ personal Torah is a Torah of leadership. He led us from slavery in Egypt to stand just outside the Promised Land, ready to enter our future. At the end of his life, he displays his leadership again, through his song, teaching us that the Torah will yield ever-increasing fruit, and that we will all be nourished differently through the very same words.































































































































































































































































































































































































So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme.  One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.


Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.


Rabbi Paul Arberman.


Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself.  This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:

” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,

hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,

as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”

Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society.  His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.

I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman









September 24, 2020