Parshat Ha’azinu – Deuteronomy 32
This week’s parsha is Ha’azinu (“Listen In”); the penultimate parsha in the Torah consisting of a 70-line song delivered by Moses on the last day of his life. Following his song Moses ascends Mount Nebo to see the Land of Canaan for the first and last time.
There are two main points from this parsha that I wish to speak about. The first is what I believe to be the main message drilled by Moses; the second to Moses the man, the leader.
To the former, time and time again Moses drills in and professes that the Children of Israel cannot blame G-d when things go wrong but must take responsibility for their actions and how they respond to actions taken against them. However, this time Moses uses intense and vivid language in his song. Lines such as “the defect is in His children, a warped and twisted generation” are attempts by Moses to make sure that his 40 year message is not forgotten. He is calling us to responsibility; proposing that Judaism is G-d’s call to human responsibility. This is an incredibly powerful thing. As ex-Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks states “to be human is to seek to escape from responsibility”, but here we have Moses stating that Judaism must be different. Judaism must make us free enough that we can take responsibility for changing the world and those that live in it. Like Victor Frankl (author of Man’s Search for Meaning) and Aaron T. Beck (co-founder of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) assert, we should be defined by the way in which we respond to what happens to us not what actually happens to us – i.e. what we CAN take responsibility over.
Ex-Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks in an article entitled A Leader’s Call to Responsibility tells of how Moses with his song “brings to closure the drama that began… with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When they sinned, Adam blamed the woman [Eve], the woman [Eve] blamed the serpent” with the result being that they were both kicked out of paradise. Why? Because neither Adam nor Eve took responsibility for their own actions, but instead tried to pawn it off to someone (or something) else. In Habo we hold the value of collective responsibility to the highest esteem. We believe that we should, together, take responsibility for each other and ultimately the world. This value that we hold I believe came from Moses. Moses continually professed collective responsibility amongst the Children of Israel and this is what we do with all Chaverim of the movement.
The second main point of this parsha, in my opinion, is to talk about Moses the man, the leader, the role model. Moses, unlike other prophets in Judaism and other religions, is nothing more than a fallible, complicated human being that just like us, went through the human experience. We see Moses despair, lose his temper and even beg to be allowed to cross the Jordan and enter Canaan; but this is what makes him accessible to us all as a role model. If your role model is infallible and almost god-like than there is never any chance of you being like them. Moses is the type of role model who shows us that it is just as important, if not more important, that role models be seen as great for what they strive to do, and not just what they physically achieve. Moses was not perfect and that is what makes him accessible. He sometimes lost faith in his ability to lead but he never lost faith in the cause, freedom; and the search for what is right, good and holy. This is what Moses must be admired for. He always believed in his cause, in the fact that he was doing the right thing.
In the movement we value Hagshama Atzmit (or Self-Actualisation) but people often think that this is only about what you do. Yes there is that element to it but it is also about striving to close the dissonance between your values and actions, that must be valued. Far too often we judge each other by our actions. Yes this is important but intentions must also be taken into consideration. Hagshama Atzmit is a continual process, one that can never end. We are therefore not always doing everything perfectly, the way that we want them to be, but we must always be in this striving mind-set; that we want things to be better for ourselves and the world. This is Hagshama Atzmit. This is the meaning of that process. This is the message of Moses.
Shabbat Shalom and Aleh V’Hagshem,