Ha'azinu 5765

June 23, 2009

8 min read


Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32 )

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GOOD MORNING!   What lesson can we learn from the hurricane? We know it's coming and that we have to make preparations - stock up on food and water, put shutters on our home, make a plan for evacuation. We don't even know for sure if it will hit us, but we know that it's coming and might hit us - and the consequences can be devastating. We know Rosh Hashana is coming. We know when. We know that we must make preparations. And we know the consequences are life and death. But ... some of us don't take it as seriously as we should, nor do we make the preparations that we could. We must learn from the hurricane to be just as real with the consequences and preparations for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as we are with it!

The essence of Rosh Hashana is that the Almighty is King. He has the power to judge us and to make a decree impacting our lives - who will live and who will die, who will be healthy and who will be sick, who will be rich and who will be poor. In the Yom Kippur prayer service we read - actually, we cry out - "Teshuva (repentance), Tefilla (prayer), Tzedakah
(righteousness and charity) break an evil decree." We have it in our power to impact that judgment for our lives for the next year ... and even the judgment that the hurricane should turn away and dissipate.

Yom Kippur begins Friday evening, September 24th (Yizkor is on Shabbat, the 25th). 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. Focus on the one you are reading ... not on how big the Machzor (prayerbook) is.

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 (check out: aish.com/holidays !)


In Leviticus 16:29-30, the Torah writes,

"This shall be an eternal decree: In the seventh month (counting from the month of Nissan) on the tenth of the month you shall afflict yourselves and all manner of work you shall not do, neither the native born nor the convert amongst you.

"For this day, he (the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest) shall atone for you to purify you from all of your transgressions - before the Almighty you shall be purified."

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 stole 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 a person and God and between a person and fellow human being. 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 or category.

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"). 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.

As mentioned above, the Torah states that we shall "afflict ourselves" on Yom Kippur. There are five "afflictions" on Yom Kippur (from before sunset Friday, September 24th until nighttime - when the stars come out - Saturday evening, September 25th) - we are prohibited from: eating and 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 I'm eating to live, then what am I 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 Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"The Rock! His deeds are perfect for all His ways are just." (Deuteronomy 32:4)

The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, once asked someone how things were going for him. Replied the man, "It wouldn't hurt if things were a bit better."

"How can you possibly know that it wouldn't hurt?" responded the Chofetz Chaim. "The Almighty knows better than you. He is merciful and compassionate. If He felt it would be good for you for things to be better, He definitely would have made them better. Certainly things are good for you the way they are."

Things are not always the way we wish them to be, but they are always for our good. This awareness will give you an elevated feeling in your life. You have every right to try to improve your situation. However, whenever you do all you can to try, and the situation is still not the way you would wish, work on internalizing the consciousness that the Almighty is doing for you what is in your best interest.

CANDLE LIGHTING - September 17:
(or go to http://www.aish.com/candlelighting)

Jerusalem  6:07
Guatemala 5:42  Hong Kong 6:06  Honolulu 6:12
J'Burg 5:44  London 6:50  Los Angeles 6:37
Melbourne 5:51  Miami 7:03  Moscow 6:24

New York 6:42  Singapore  6:45


Conscience is what hurts
when everything else feels good

Dedicated in loving memory of
Andrea Goldstein
an Aishes Chayil
by Dr. Harold Goldstein

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

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