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Tell Your Children

Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32 )

by Yehuda Appel

Every Passover, in keeping with the theme of Divine
intervention and redemption, my family has a custom at our seder table for each
person to tell of instances where his or her own life was saved from danger.

One year, among our guests was a mother and her teenage
daughter. The mother told a fascinating, dramatic story that had taken place
during her youth. As impressed as we all were by the story, her daughter was
even more impressed - because this was the first time she had heard this bit of family history! Noting the daughter's reaction, many of us at the table began to marvel about all the great stories that frequently go unshared between parents and their children.

The subject of sharing experiences with one's children is a prominent theme in this week's Torah portion, Ha'azinu. Much of the parsha is written as a "song" that describes the future recalcitrance toward God. Prophesizing that the Jewish people will forget God and His commandments, Moses describes the various afflictions that may come about. In the future, the Jewish people will push God's protective shelter away from them - and then wonder where God has gone! Finally in the midst of their suffering, the people will return to their connection with God.

The purpose of these verses, though, is not simply to
prophesize about the future. Rather it is to serve "as a witness" to
prevent the Jewish people from future misdeeds. Paradoxically, it is meant to prevent the very events that it is predicting will happen! The hope is that if we take to heart the warnings in the Torah, the dreaded consequences it predicts will not occur. It is primary to Jewish belief that prophecies of punishment can be nullified if people change their ways.

To help facilitate its transmission, this section - in
addition to being read annually as one of the weekly Torah portions - was sung
each week in the Temple by the Levites.

But the efficacy of this message obviously depends upon it
being passed down accurately through the generations. In the view of certain
commentators, it is a special mitzvah for parents to share experiences with their children. This is how we strengthen our connection to them and give them the best opportunities to learn about life. The Torah itself says: "Ask your father and he will relate it to you and your elders and they will tell you" (Deut. 32:7). Ultimately it is through the experiences of one's parents that one can come to better know oneself ... and the ways of God.

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