Ha'azinu -- Deuteronomy 32:1 – 52

American economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006) once remarked that "universities exist to transmit knowledge and understanding of ideas and values to students, not to provide entertainment for spectators or employment for athletes." Similarly, the task of Mosaic leadership is to transmit the knowledge and understanding of ideas and values for community-building.

This being so, it's worth noting how Moses manages to remain connected to the web of larger meaning and community while delivering his soliloquy in verse to the Israelites on the last day of his life on earth? Moses calls heaven and earth as his witnesses, and challenges the Israelites to take to heart the continuity they are now a part of. He admonishes and warns his people against the pitfalls of plenty and the apathy that will grow when one becomes too comfortable while living in the Promised Land.

As Moses ascends the summit of Mount Nebo in accord with the divine command, he is able to glimpse the territory he has so long longed for, but he will never enter it. Moses dies at the threshold. Nonetheless, his soliloquy overpowers any sense of "present horror," that dreadful silence that emerges in the dead of night, by ensuring that his legacy is fulfilled by those who come after, by those who will uphold and transmit the knowledge and understanding of ideas and values for community-building that lies at the root of all Torah.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by Deuteronomy 32:2: "My lesson will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew; like storm winds on vegetation and like raindrops on grass." Here, fragments of Torah fall earthward. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

VeZot Ha'Berachah -- Deuteronomy 33:1 – 34:12

facebook_coverdesign_vezothaberachahPlease note that Parashat VeZot Ha'Berachah is read during the Simchat Torah service, which will take place on Tuesday, October 25. This Saturday, October 22, is Shabbat Sukkot, during which we read a selection from Parashat Ki Tissa.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) once remarked: "Zion is in ruins, Jerusalem lies in the dust. All week there is only hope of redemption. But when the Sabbath is entering the world, man is touched by a moment of actual redemption; as if for a moment the spirit of the Messiah moved over the face of the earth."

How is this redemption achieved? For Heschel, redemption takes place through time, not space. "Quality time" is what matters in our lives, and it is through the Jewish calendar that we "do Jewish," embodying Jewish life and identity.

It is precisely through the appointed times (or moadim) on the Jewish calendar that we are best able to define our Jewish lives. We do so by abiding in the sukkah and taking hold of the four species, as well as by participating in the thrice annual pilgrimage festivals to the Jerusalem Temple during Passover, the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and Booths (Sukkot).

And when we "Rejoice in the Torah" during Simchat Torah, we simultaneously conclude and begin anew the annual Torah-reading cycle. Firstly, we read the Torah section of Parashat VeZot Ha'Berachah, recounting the Mosaic blessing bestowed upon each of the twelve tribes of Israel before his death. Echoing Jacob's blessings to his twelve sons five generations earlier, Moses empowers each tribe with its individual role within the Israelite community.

What VeZot Ha'Berachah then relates is how Moses ascended Mount Nebo to its summit, taking a peek at the Promised Land without ever entering into it. Moses’ burial place to this day remains unknown and the Torah concludes by attesting that "never again did there arose a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom G-d knew face to face...and in all the mighty hand and the great, awesome things which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel."

As we conclude the annual reading of the Torah, it is important to remember that every moment is a sacred encounter in the making when we truly value the sacral power of time.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork includes the symbols and colors of the two tribes of Israel that we know survive today (i.e., the tribes that became Jews). The colors and symbols are drawn from Bamidbar Rabbah, part of our rabbinic literature (midrashim). The stones of the choshen, or priestly breastplate, are depicted in white, black, and red here, and represent the Tribe of Levi. The lion depicted on a sky blue ground represents the Tribe of Judah. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Ha'azinu -- Deuteronomy 32:1 – 52

facebook2_coverdesign_haazinuIn spite of his death at 28, Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg (aka Novalis, 1772–1801) left us with a long lifetime's worth of profound gems. Among these, "Whoever knows what philosophizing is, also knows what life is."

Philosophy happens in the school of life. We encounter it through everyday provocations like irony, the joke, and the essay. For Novalis, self-understanding cannot be achieved through isolated soliloquy; rather, it requires engagement with the larger community as well as with the arts. In other words, in order to understand yourself, you must first realize that you belong to a greater web of meaning.

As we read Moses’ soliloquy this week in Parashat Ha’azinu, I have been thinking more about Novalis’ insight. How does Moses manage to remain connected to the web of larger meaning and community while delivering his soliloquy in verse to the Israelites on the last day of his life on earth? Moses calls heaven and earth as his witnesses, and challenges the Israelites to take to heart the continuity they are now a part of. He admonishes and warns his people against the pitfalls of plenty and the apathy that will grow when one becomes too comfortable while living in the Promised Land.

As Moses ascends the summit of Mount Nebo in accord with the divine command, he is able to glimpse the Promised Land, but he will never enter it. Moses dies at the threshold, but his soliloquy overpowers any sense of "present horror," that dreadful silence that emerges in the dead of night, by ensuring that his legacy is fulfilled by those who come after, by those who will uphold and transmit the Torah.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by one of the descriptions of the future, fallen Israelite people in the Song of Moses. "Their wine is the bitterness of serpents, and the bitterness of the ruthless cobras." Here, wine glass ring stains turn into Ouroboros-like cobras. (Deuteronomy 32:33) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.