Ha'azinu 5762

June 23, 2009

5 min read


Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32 )

GOOD MORNING!  There are many ways of viewing the passage of time. There is the historical timeline presenting events in a chronological order. There is the circular view of the seasons -- summer, fall, winter and spring. The Torah perspective is one of a spiral; visually, it would be like an expanded slinky. Time goes through spiritual seasons, yet we build on the past as we move forward.

Each part of the year has its own spiritual opportunity. It is a time when certain spiritual attainments are easier to acquire. Passover is a time to work on Freedom; Shavuot is the time for accepting the Torah upon ourselves; Rosh Hashana is the time of judgment; Yom Kippur the time of teshuva, spiritual return. And Sukkot (starting Monday evening, October 1) is a time of joy. We must use the opportunity of each time, or each holiday to change ourselves and to grow.


Sukkot means "booths." During the 40 years of wandering in the desert we lived in Sukkot. We are commanded (see Leviticus 23:33-44) on this holiday to make our Sukkah our main dwelling place -- to eat, sleep, learn Torah and spend our time there. If one would suffer from being in a Sukkah -- i.e., from rain and snow or heat and mosquitoes -- he is freed from the obligation to dwell there. Depending on climatic conditions, people try to at least eat in the Sukkah. We are also commanded to wave the arbah minim, the Four Species, which have many deep and mystical meanings -- that the Almighty controls the whole world, the winds, the forces and everything everywhere; that all Jews are bound together as one people, be they saints or sinners, knowledgeable or ignorant.

The mitzvah of dwelling in the Sukkah teaches us trust in God. We tend to think that our possessions, our money, our homes, our intelligence will protect us. Here we are exposed to the elements in a temporary hut. Living in a Sukkah puts life into perspective. Our history has borne this out. No matter how well-established, wealthy and "secure" we have become in a host country, in the end it too has been a temporary dwelling. I am always haunted by the vision of German Jews going to the concentration camps wearing their Iron Crosses (won for valorous war service to Germany in World War One) and insisting that they are Germans first. Our trust must be in God.

Sukkot is called zman simchateinu, the time of our joy. Joy is distinct from happiness. Happiness is taking pleasure in what you have. Joy is the pleasure of anticipating a future good. If we trust in God and know that everything that the Almighty does for us is for our good, then we will know great joy in our lives!

Sukkot is one of the Shelosh Regalim, Three Festivals (the other two are Pesach and Shavuot), where the Torah commands everyone living in Israel to leave their homes to come to Jerusalem to celebrate at the Temple. For the last 2,000 years since the destruction of the Temple, we've been unable to fulfill this mitzvah.


One of the special commandments for Sukkot is to take the arbah minim, the Four Species (Etrog, Lulav, Hadassim, and Aravot), and to wave them in the four directions of the compass as well as up and down. The meaning of the waving is that God is everywhere. Why are these four species designated for the mitzvah?

Our rabbis teach that these four species are symbolic of four types of Jews: the Etrog (citron) which has a fragrance and a taste represents those Jews who have both Torah wisdom and good deeds; the Lulav (date palm branch) which has a taste (from the dates), but no fragrance represents those Jews who have Torah wisdom, but no good deeds; the Hadassim (myrtle branches) have a fragrance, but no taste representing those Jews who have good deeds, but no Torah wisdom; and lastly, the Aravot (willow branches) have neither a taste nor a smell representing those Jews who are lacking in Torah wisdom and good deeds.

What do we do on Sukkot? We symbolically bind together and recognize every Jew as an integral and important part of the Jewish people. If even one is missing, the mitzvah is incomplete. Our people is one; we must do all we can to bind together the Jewish people and work to strengthen the Jewish future!

Portion of the Week


The Torah portion is a song, a poem taught to the Jewish people by Moshe. It recounts the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people during the 40 years in the desert. Jewish consciousness, until the present generation, was to teach every Jewish child to memorize Ha'azinu. In this manner we internalized the lessons of our history, especially the futility of rebelling against the Almighty.

The portion ends with Moshe being told to ascend Mount Nevo to see the Promised Land before he dies and is gathered to his people. By the way, this is one of the allusions to an afterlife in the Torah. Moshe died alone and no one knows where he is buried. Therefore, "gathered to his people" has a higher meaning!


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states, "My teachings shall come down to you as rain" (Deuteronomy 32:2). What lesson for life can we learn from comparing Torah teachings to rain?

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, the former Rosh Hayeshiva (head) of the Mir Yeshiva, cites the Vilna Gaon that rain helps things grow - but only from what is already planted. If someone has planted vegetables or fruits, rain will help them develop. However, if there are poisonous mushrooms planted, rain will help them grow as well.

Similarly, Torah study makes one grow. However, it depends on one's character traits as to how he will develop. A person who has elevated traits will become a greatly elevated person; a person who has faulty character traits such as arrogance, selfishness or cruelty can become a real menace.

What do we do to develop good character traits? There is a whole area of Torah learning called Musar which focuses on developing good character. I highly suggest the classic Path of the Just by Moshe Chaim Luzzato and two relatively new books, To Heal the Soul by Rabbi Kalman Shapira and Under the Table and How to Get Up by Abraham Greenbaum. They are available in English from your local Jewish bookstore or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242. You won't regret learning them!


If you live in North America, you can now learn on the telephone with a personal Torah teacher, and explore any avenue of Judaism, any time of day which is convenient for you. If you are interested, please send your home/business phone number to chavrusa@aish.com, or call toll free 866-873-6458. An Aish staff member will contact you as soon as possible.

CANDLE LIGHTING - September 28:
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Jerusalem  4:52
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New York 6:26  Singapore  6:41


Happiness is not
doing what you enjoy,
but enjoying what you do.

Refuah Shlaimah
A Complete Healing
Menachem Mendel ben Chayah
from David Baum

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