My weekly d’var Torah 26 September 2020 : parasha Ha-Azinu האזינו……. when words fail.
There is a Jewish joke that describes Jews at a party (I was about to write “old” Jewish joke but they, the jokes, are all old and so the word would be redundant!). The line is: “Jews at a party say goodbye and never leave”. And so we have our chapter today. It is the “last” chapter of the Torah (in linear reading) and yet it is not the last. We will have the final final blessing and words of Moses after this “final” chapter (and interesting that in Hebrew “final” is also signaled by a repetition בסוף בסוך). But we have come to the end. This is it! And yet we cannot say goodbye. This chapter is more about Moses and the way we leave him and the way he leaves us than it is about what he says. Everything he says in this chapter he has said before. But never in the way he says it in Ha-Azinu. This chapter is poetry not prose. And that is key. When words fail we (human beings) turn to song, we turn to dance, we turn to poetry, we turn to pictures, we turn, finally, to art. Ha-Azinu is art. It is poetry, it is a song. It is Moses saying goodbye when words fail.
Coda: This parasha arrives on the very eve of Yom Kippur, the day when, like Moses, we look back and look forward. This is no accident. And it is so very poignant, heartbreaking really, to know that Moses will not “be inscribed in the book of life” in the new year. But we, like the Israelites Moses led, will be inscribed (we hope) and, after looking back, we too will (and must) look forward.
Notes: 1. One of Judaism’s most powerful poems and prayers for the new year, וּנְתַנֶּה תֹּקֶף Unetaneh Tokef, in words below (abridged) and in the extraordinary voices of Rabbi and Cantor Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue New York and Leonard Cohen in his interpretation.
“On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed – how many shall pass away and how many shall be born, who shall live and who shall die, who in good times, and who by an untimely death, who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by wild beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by earthquake and who by plague, who by strangulation and who by lapidation, who shall have rest and who wander, who shall be at peace and who pursued, who shall be serene and who tormented, who shall become impoverished and who wealthy, who shall be debased, and who exalted. But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severity of the decree.”
Rabbi and Cantor Angela Buchdahl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYF1uATe62c&ab_channel=CentralSynagogue
2. And to take us out,The great Gladys Knight (again) telling us that, like Moses and us, “neither one of us wants to be the first to say goodbye”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_Lh4MFiw08&ab_channel=mixedgrill
3. And finally, finally סוף סוף, Barbara Streisand‘s Avinu Malkeinu (Thank you Rivka Gorfkinkel). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YONAP39jVE&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=SashaCharan
Shabbat shalom! May we be renewed in the new year! גמר חתימה טובה