On the very last day of his life, the prophet Moshe delivers an extraordinary message to the people of Israel through the song, or poem, Ha’Azinu. While in the next and final parashah of the Torah, V’Zot haBrachah, Moshe will give a blessing to each tribe of Israel just before he dies, the words of Ha’Azinu are his final message to the people of Israel as a whole. The poem is extraordinary in its structure and its expanse, covering the terms of the covenantal relationship between God and Israel. In poetic form, Moshe relates the history of the relationship and foretells what the future will hold.
According to the tradition, this poem encapsulates the essence of the relationship of God with Israel, and in effect the entire Torah itself. Taken on a literal level, describing a future in which after exile Israel will war with the enemy who will be slain by the sword of God, one shudders at how this could be applied in contemporary terms. It is time that we take to task the essence of the poem, the essence of Torah: what it means that God is just and we wax fat. The question in front of each and every Jew is what is the nature of the covenant between God and Israel? This question is at the heart of this season of the Yamim Noraim – and it is probably the most important question facing each segment of humanity that claims it believes in God and follows a “holy scripture” as the “word of God”. If all of us were to be literalists, if all of us fundamentalists, the triumphalist orgiastic bloodletting that we encounter on the surface of this poem and is found in parallel religious traditions would unfold upon us. For this reason, the 21st century has seen the rapid growth of atheism and rejection of God.
But here we are, faithful Jews, still believing in God, the Eternal Mystery, the One we understand as the Creator of All Life, the Source of Conscious Being. Ironically, we must now show our faithfulness to God by contextualizing and containing some of the words of our ancestors that have been handed down to us as “the words of God”.
Today, we wax fat when we assert we know God’s will and God’s word. The faithlessness of idolatry described in the Ha’Azinu and the rest of Torah concerned the actual worship of wood and stone, of things. Ironically, the faithlessness of our generation is the veneration of the word more than the intent of the word itself. All we actually know is how our ancestors understood God’s will and word. In general, they established the parameters that we as Jews follow to this day in our covenant with God. We are the people of Israel, connected to the land of Israel, where we are to be a model nation in the service of God. We remain loyal to God, and loyal to our ancestral covenant with God, when we remember that the core principle of Torah is that we are here as to serve God. Given our evolving understanding of God as the One of which are all part and which flows through us, we follow Torah as it teaches us to preserve and enhance life.