Weekly Torah: Haazinu

Weißkopf-Seeadler auf der Jagd nach Lachsen

On Eagle’s Wings (5777/2016)

Every time I see a bald eagle soar, my heart soars, celebrating the return of this majestic, intelligent bird to the Pacific Northwest.

So I love verses of Torah that speak of God as an eagle.

I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to me. (Ex. 19:4)

This verse presents a simple metaphor. The words describe an eagle, but the context makes it clear God speaks about God’s own rescue of the Israelites from slavery. Together, words and context inspire you to focus on God’s raptor-like qualities. God sees clearly, God flies high, God is loyal to God’s flock.

Like an eagle who rouses its nestlings, gliding down to its young; so did God spread wings and take them, bear them along on pinions. (Deut. 32:11)

This verse is more complex. In form, it’s a couplet typical of Biblical poetry. The first clause makes a point; the second amplifies and extends it. But the content here is unusual — because the second clause is a a bit of a tease.

Notice, says the first clause, how a powerful eagle approaches its children compassionately. Now, says the second clause, stop thinking about the eagle and think about God. Stop thinking about the biological world and think about the spiritual world. Because what we say here about God is not true of an eagle. A flying eagle cannot carry its babies on its back, or push its fledglings forward at the edge of its wings. But God, infinitely more powerful than the eagle, can do something like that.

What exactly does God do? That question, as Aristotle would say in his analysis of metaphor, is for you to answer. In what way does God carry you? Push you forward? Challenge you? Invite you to think for yourself?


hell_gate_bridge_triborough_7apr02L’dor vador: From Generation to Generation (2012/5773)

The word l’dor, has a gematriya of 234.  The word appears in God’s first call to Avraham and to Moshe.  Each is called by God to believe that others will be blessed through them.

The word vador has a gematriya of 210.  It appears in the song of Haazinu, in a passage that speaks directly to the younger generation:

Remember the days of old. Understand the times of the previous generations. Ask your parents and they will tell you. Ask your elders and they will speak to you.

Looking only at words that appear in the Torah the number 210 is also the gematriya of emek, valley, and hahar, the mountain. Mountain and valley are two features of a landscape that depend on one another to exist.

210 is also the gematriya of amok, deep, and rochav, breadth. Depth and breadth are two of the dimensions that give every existing object its shape, neither of which can exist in isolation from the other.

And 210 is also the gematriya of chubar, joined together, which emphasizing once again that importance of both generations playing the roles suggested by Torah. The older: sharing blessings, teaching, guiding, answering questions, being flexible and open to change. The younger: asking questions, actively understanding answers, remembering and honoring.

The collaborative relationship between generations is part of a divine charge to humanity. How will we choose to implement it in our personal and communal lives?


God our Mother (5769/2009)

Adapted from Rabbi Gail Labovitz

Parshat Ha’azinu is a poem that Moshe recites to the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Land of Israel. As a poem, it is full of figurative language to describe God: Rock, Eagle, Avenger, One Whose Face May Be Hidden. Two verses provide striking images of God as a Mother to the people – an image that occurs rarely in classical Jewish writings.

“He fed him honey from the crag, and oil from the flinty rock” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 32:13). The word translated here as “fed” is the Hebrew word va-yeinikeihu, which comes from the root that also means “to suckle,” as a mother nurses her child.

“You neglected the Rock that begot you, forgot the God who brought you forth” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 32:18). The word translated as “begot” is the Hebrew word y’lad’kha, literally “gave birth to you.” Classical rabbinic midrash also connects the word “Rock” with this maternal theme by quoting another image of God as Mother from the prophet Isaiah. The Hebrew word translated here as “Rock” is tzur.  Isaiah speaks of tzirim, birth pangs. When Israel fears that they have been abandoned by God, Isaiah brings a message from God: “Can a woman forget her baby, Or disown the child of her womb?” (Isaiah 49:11).


The Bridge (5767/2007)

Adapted from Rabbi Malka Drucker

Listen Heaven! I will speak! Earth! Hear the words of my mouth.

(Devarim/Deuteronomy 32:1)

If we are spiritual seekers, we wander through life searching for bridges to move us closer to God. Parashat Ha’azinu offers us several bridges.

As the last Torah portion of the year, Ha’azinu is a bridge between the end and the beginning of a year’s study.

The Ha’azinu song bridges the beginning of the Israelites’ journey with the end. The journey began with Moshe, Miriam and the Israelites celebrating their physical safety in the Song of the Sea. It now ends with Moshe singing about the spiritual safety of the Israelites.

Moshe calls on heaven and earth to listen to a human song. Thus he reminds us that each of us is a bridge between heaven and earth, i.e., between the physical and the spiritual. Our physical senses make it possible for us to apprehend what is also spiritual. Our Torah made of skin, ink, and physical human craft brings us timeless teachings.

And, because Ha’azinu is a song, it bridges mind and heart. Each word is packed with multiple meanings, connections, and directions – more than any one mind can unpack, but the perfect amount to store in the rhythm and music of a heart.


The Song of Our Inner Moshe (6766/2006)

Adapted from Rabbi Moshe Aharon Ladzyner (a.k.a. Rabbi Miles Krassen)

Ha’azinu hashamayim v’ha’aretz!
Listen deeply, heaven and earth!
(Devarim/Deuteronomy 32:1)

On the last day of his life, Moshe received the inspiration to compose: Ha’azinu, the song of deep listening.  Think of it: instead of the Israelites singing to Moshe as he passed into the next world, Moshe sang to them.  What message is the Torah conveying through the figure of Moshe?

Think of Moshe as the part of us that can hear the vibrations of divine guidance – and articulate it in song.  Each year, as we complete the cycle of reading the Torah, we have an opportunity to take a look at our inner Moshe. What have we learned in the past year that has changed our inner rudder?  Listen deeply as the inner Moshe sings us his end-of-year song, and passes leadership on to a more evolved inner guide.

Our Hassidic teachers say that as a result of our teshuvah practice, we can draw down a new and more evolved manifestation of Be-ing (YHVH) into the New Year.  When we listen deeply to the song of our inner Moshe, we can articulate to ourselves how our relationship with God has grown over the past year.  We may find that we speak to God more often, or question God more often, or access God through deep stillness more often.  Whatever we find will be our starting point for the next year’s journey into Torah, Judaism, spirit, and relationships.  May your inner Moshe play beautiful background music in the coming year!

Images: wikipedia, wirednewyork.com

  1. The Day of Atonement is to me the Day of at-one-ment as spoken about by Rebbe Zlaman Sachter-Shalomi. It is a day to become one with one’s self and others in relation to HaShem as well.

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