Ha'azinu 5768

June 23, 2009

2 min read


Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32 )

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GOOD MORNING! Yom Kippur begins Friday evening September 21. This means that Yom Kippur is on Shabbat. Therefore, though it is Shabbat, Yom Kippur takes precedence and all restrictions of Yom Kippur apply. Yizkor will be recited on Yom Kippur, Saturday morning.

___The story is told of a house painter who deeply regretted stealing from his clients by diluting the paint, but charging full price. He poured out his heart on Yom Kippur hoping for Divine direction. A voice comes from Heaven and decrees, "Repaint, repaint ... and thin no more!"

___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. 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!



___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 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.

___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 21st until nighttime - when the stars come out -Saturday evening, September 22nd) - 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 you're eating to live, then what are you living for?
  3. What would I like written in my obituary or on my tombstone?

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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!

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Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

___In the song of Ha'azinu it says:

"Remember the days of yore, understand the years of every generation." (Deut. 32:7)

___What does understanding the "days of yore" have to do with understanding "every generation"?

___Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, the former Rosh Hayeshiva of Telse, elucidated: "The Torah gives us guidelines for the viewing and understanding of history from a true perspective. If one wishes to comprehend an event in history, one cannot look at it in the limited scope of the finite here and now; rather, one must understand the event as having a place in the historical continuum.

___"A historical occurrence extends itself beyond the isolation of time and space and reaches towards the past and future to acquire true significance. However, one must invariably begin with Creation and the Creator. As the Vilna Gaon explained, to understand 'the years of every generation' one must first 'remember the days of yore' - the Six Days of Creation. For in those days lies the complete plan of the development of the universe and humankind in it. This, the Gaon taught, is the only way to understand history.

___"Secular sources view history in perspectives of their own, predicated on economic, social, and political principles. By contrast, the Torah directs us to view history as the unfolding of the Divine Plan.

___"History is the metamorphosis of man through the stages of destruction and redemption, continuing towards his final redemption in the days of Moshiach (messiah). All such events, the redemptions and the destructions, are perceived as fundamental testimony to the presence of the Almighty in this world, and are understood as experiential units in divine supervision, the active force of the Hand of the Almighty."

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