Ha'azinu 5763

June 23, 2009

7 min read


Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32 )

GOOD MORNING!  A friend once had a court case. The judge called for a lunch recess, but there wasn't enough time to go to a restaurant. My friend and his attorney decided to check out the vending machines. The attorney proceeded to purchase 9 candy bars and ... a diet coke. My friend was puzzled. "I understand," he said, "buying 9 candy bars, but why are you buying a DIET coke?" The attorney responded, "You've got to save calories where you can save."

Yom Kippur begins Sunday evening, September 15th (Yizkor is on Monday, the 16th). There are many prayer services and many prayers in each service where we ask for forgiveness - where we need to focus on what we have done wrong this past year and on what we can improve. It is difficult to keep focused and to concentrate in every prayer. So, I want you to remember my friend's attorney and concentrate where you can concentrate!

In preparation for Yom Kippur, we should ask ourselves, "What can I do to improve my relationship with the Almighty and my observance of His commandments?"

The Rambam, Maimonides, teaches that each individual's life is always on a balance - like the old-time scales where the weights were put on one side and the produce on the other side - and that each of us should think before doing an action that this transgression or that this Mitzvah (commandment) could tip the scales.

Likewise, Rambam teaches, that each community, each country and ultimately the world is judged in the same manner. Thus, an individual should not only think that his transgression or fulfillment of a Mitzvah tips the scale for him alone, but may very well tip the scale for all of mankind!


Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the anniversary of the day Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai the second set of Ten Commandments. This signified that the Almighty forgave the Jewish people for the transgression of the Golden Calf. For all times this day was decreed to be a day of forgiveness for our mistakes. However, this refers to transgressions against the Almighty. Transgressions against our fellow man require us to correct our mistakes and seek forgiveness. If one took from another person, it is not enough to regret and ask the Almighty for forgiveness; first, one must return what was taken and ask for forgiveness from the person and then ask for forgiveness from the Almighty.

In the prayer service we say the Viduy, a confession, and the Al Chet, a list of transgressions between man and God and between man and man. It is interesting to note two things. First, the transgressions are listed in alphabetical order (in Hebrew). This not only makes a comprehensive list, but gives a framework to include whatever transgression you wish to include under the proper letter.

Secondly, the Viduy and Al Chet are stated in the plural. This teaches us that we are one people and that we are responsible for each other. Even if we did not commit a particular offense, we carry a certain measure of responsibility for those who transgressed - especially if we could have prevented the transgression.

On Yom Kippur we read the Book of Jonah (i.e.. "Jonah and the Whale" - though, it was a fish and not a whale...). The essence of the story is that God readily accepts the repentance of anyone who sincerely desires to do Teshuva, to return to the Almighty and to the
path of the Torah.

There are five prohibitions on Yom Kippur (from before sunset Sunday, September 15th until nighttime - when the stars come out - Monday evening, September 16th) - eating & drinking, wearing leather shoes, marital relations, anointing the skin with salves and oils, and washing for pleasure.

The essence of these prohibitions is to cause affliction to the body, thus negating it and giving preeminence to the soul. From a Jewish perspective a human being is comprised of a "yetzer tov" (the desire to do the right thing, which is identified with the soul) and a "yetzer hora" (the desire to follow your desires, which corresponds with the body). Our challenge in life is to get our bodies in line with the yetzer tov. A comparison is made in the Talmud to a horse (the body) and a rider (the soul). Better to have the rider on top of the horse!

Jewish tradition teaches that on Yom Kippur the yetzer hora, the desire to follow your desires, is dead. If we follow our desires, it is only out of habit. On Yom Kippur we can break our habits! Here are three questions to think about on Yom Kippur:

  1. Am I eating to live or living to eat?
  2. If you're eating to live, then what are you living for?

  3. What would I like written in my obituary or on my tombstone?

Torah 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 Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Part of Moshe's poem reads:

"My teaching shall drop as rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb." (Deuteronomy 32:2)

Why does Moses want his teachings to drop "as rain"?

Water is a vital component of life. Rain is a vehicle for bringing water across the planet to places that otherwise would not have access to water. When rain falls on trees and plants, growth is not noticeable immediately. It takes time for the rain to have a visible effect.

Likewise, when we give admonition to others or we make efforts to change ourselves, improvement is often not immediately noticeable. We should not despair nor give up hope. Every effort has an impact just as every rain drop has an impact. If we keep trying, then, God willing, our efforts will bloom! Likely, this is why Moses chose rain as the metaphor for his teachings.

CANDLE LIGHTING - September 13:
(or go to http://aish.com/candlelighting)

Jerusalem  6:13
Guatemala 5:47  Hong Kong 6:18  Honolulu 6:18
J'Burg 5:41  London 7:02  Los Angeles 6:45
Melbourne 5:50  Miami 7:09  Moscow 6:35

New York 6:51  Singapore  6:46


A year from now
you may wish
you had started today.
-- Karen Lamb

With Special Thanks to
Richard & Susan Finkelstein
for dedicating this edition

May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year!

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