Thursday, 10 Oct 2019

Written by Martina Loreggian

The children of Israel have arrived at the border with the land of Canaan, after forty years of wandering in the desert. The generation that came out of Egypt, from the house of slaves, has now perished along the journey. Even Aaron and Miriam are dead. The goal is near, the promised land is there, finally at hand. But not for Moses, who not only belongs to the generation that came out from the land of Egypt and has to perish in the desert, but also received an explicit prohibition from God to lead the People to the Land, that was before promised to the fathers, and now given to their children.

The punishment incurred by both Moses and his brother Aaron is told in Parashat Khukkat. Miriam died and the People has no water anymore. God orders to Moses to take his rod, to gather the children of Israel with Aaron in front of a rock and to speak to it to make the water flow and thus give drink to all the tribes and their cattle. Moses grabs the rod, but does not speak to the rock. He hits it with his stick and makes the water flow. It is at this point that we read in verse 12 of Chapter 20 of Numbers: “But the Eternal said to Moses and Aaron: because you did not trust me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community to the land I give them. ”

Many explanations have been given to this apparently non-serious episode, but with respect to which God says:“ you have not sanctified me in the eyes of the people ”, some commentators come to speak of Chillul Hashem, profanation of the Name, by Moses and Aaron. We do not know exactly which is the sin ascribed to the brothers, but we know that it has to do with water, symbol of Torah, and with the means with which it is given to the people. Moses must speak, it is no longer the time for wonders and signs. The children of Israel will enter the Land without him, so they cannot take with them the skills of their leader, they must bring with them something that will live within them, in the absence of Moses: a word from Torah, a dvar Torah, that gives them a narrative, a hope, a teaching. Moses is not ready, he resorts once again to signs and wonders. But God wants something different from him. You did not sanctify Me by showing that a word from Torah can be just as powerful as prodigies to prove to the children of Israel that I am the Eternal, who brought them out of the house of slaves and will lead them to the Land I promised to their forefathers. For this reason you will not lead this community to the place I give them.

And now here we are, Parashat Haazinu. After having explained the Law to the children of Israel throughout the book of Devarim, Moses, at the end of his journey, even existential, the man who struggled with words all life long, the stammerer, the one who was punished for not having knowing how to speak at a proper time, he begins his last song with these words: “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; / Let the earth hear the words I utter! / May my discourse as down as the rain, / My speech as the dew, / Like showers on young growth, / Like droplets on the grass. / For the name of Adonai I proclaim … “. Moses asks that his words flow like light rain on a desert land, parched and trimmed, that they descend docile as dew. The People is awaiting his last words, the gift of their Master before facing entry into the Land. And Moses intones one of the most beautiful songs of the whole Torah. And give them a dvar Torah. It does not explain the rules and the statutes. He leaves them a narrative: that of the covenant between God and His People.

Moses knows that the covenant will be forgotten by the children of Israel. They will turn to other deities, they will be idolaters, they will commit abominations and injustices. He knows it and tells it to them in vivid, even violent and cruel words. God will punish them for this, put them in the hands of the enemies, the Land will be in danger, but the covenant will not be dissolved. God will remember Israel and will avenge His People.

As Moses finishes his speech, God turns to him. He asks him to climb to the top of Mount Nebo and admire the Land he will not enter, announcing that he will soon die there, while the Israelites cross the Jordan: In verse 52 of chapter 32 of our Parashah we read: “You may view the land from a distance , but you shall not enter it, the land that I give to the Israelite people. ”

The condemnation seems to be confirmed: Moses will not be with the People he has led so far, for which he has prayed and begged, to every crisis, to every complaint, in every difficulty. Yet the verses of Devarim and Bamidbar contain a difference that seems meaningful to me: in Numbers we read: “lo tavou et haqahal haze” while in our Parashah we read: “lo tavo”. You will not enter this community into vs you will not enter. Moses will not physically lead the People to the Land of Israel. Joshua will do it. But the words of Moses will lead the Israelites across the border and will stay with them, with us, forever.

We read Haazinu always at Shabbat Shuva or, like this year, on the first Shabbat after Kippur. And in reading this Parashah we recognize ourselves both in the People and in Moses, because we have just experienced similar feelings during Kippur. We are children of Israel, we have strayed from God, we have committed abominations and injustices that we confessed for 25 hours, to discover that God awaits us, that the covenant has not disappeared, that it is possible to return. Like Moses we have verified that the past is not erased, time does not come back and what we have done will leave consequences in the present and in the future. But still we can do something. We can act to mitigate those consequences, we can repair, we can go back to the path we are trying to trace with  huge efforts in our lives: prayer, repentance and acts of justice can mitigate the severity of the judgment.


Martina Loreggian LBC rabbinic student

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.