A time for soul searching

BY RABBI MORDECAI MILLER

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are time to set aside for reflection. It’s a time for soul-searching and self-evaluation: to try to set aside our many personal concerns and view our lives through a universal lens. What are we trying to accomplish with our lives? Are we abusing others — or ourselves? Do our values balance our quest for personal survival and the needs of society? Are we conscious of our daily blessings and do we see that privilege as a mandate to reach out to those who are struggling to survive?

In this week’s sedra of Ha-Azinu, we read the words of a poem that God instructed Moses, our great teacher, to compose. The purpose of the poem is to serve as a forewarning to the Jewish People. God is concerned that the prosperity that the Israelites will experience in conquering the land of Canaan will inevitably lead them away from observing the Torah. The poem dramatically portrays how God took Israel from its humble beginnings to the point where it could experience the blessings of the Land. (“He made him ride on the high places of the earth, and he ate the produce of the field; He nursed him with honey from the crag and oil from the flinty rock; butter from the herd and milk of sheep with the fat of lambs…” Deut. 32;13,14)

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Instead of deep appreciation for this, Israel “forsakes the God who made him” (ib. 15) The results are disastrous: destruction and exile.

This isn’t the end of the story. God is still concerned about the fate of His people. The enemies of Israel think that their success is self-made (“Our hand is exalted, the Lord has not achieved all of this…” ibid. 27). Such an attitude causes God to reconsider the ultimate destruction of Israel.

The poem is ambiguous: is God merciful to Israel because the Israelites don’t understand that their destruction was only the result of God’s design? Or is it on account of the arrogance of the nations?

Either way, God takes up the cause of Israel and ultimately restores their fortunes. The final verse: “Sing out you nations (who are) His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants; He will render vengeance to His enemies; and expiate the land of His people.” (ibid. 43)

Ha-Azinu challenges us to consider to what extent we reflect the situation described.

On the one hand we realize that we cannot afford to be complacent about the condition of our personal faith. On the other hand, we can be assured that, despite the abuse and the increasing dangers we see developing on the world scene, Divine justice will, in fact, ultimately triumph.

Rabbi Mordecai Miller of Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel Congregation prepared this week’s Torah portion.