Parashat Ha’azinu– Erev Shabbat 25 September 2020
Week of 20-26 September 2019
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 32:1-52 Haftarah: Hos 14:2-10, Mic 7:18-20, Joel 2:15-27
Theme: Return to path that gives us life
Israel’s wilderness experience is bracketed by two songs attributed to Moses: the first, just after the crossing of the Red Sea (Ex 15) and the second, in this week’s parashah. The former is a song of thanksgiving for God’s presence, love and care throughout the past 40 years, despite straying from the path that God has placed before them (Plaut, 1398). The other is a song of hope that God will continue to be present to them into the future. At the conclusion of the song (32:46), Moses instructs the children of Israel to “enjoin [these words] upon your children, that they may observe faithfully all the terms of this Teaching” (Heb. Torah). As suggested by the word translated as teaching, this has been interpreted expansively to include all of the Torah and not just the words of this song (Plaut, 1407).
In the church of Saint Francis in Melbourne, and in the Chapel of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion in Ein Kerem, there is a statue of Joseph instructing Jesus from the Torah. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus defines his true family as all who, “hear the word of God and do it” (8:21). Hearing and doing must go hand in hand. Instructing our children in God’s word is not simply about making the written word accessible to them; it also involves living this word in a way that inspires them and others to walk the right path by living in ways that give life to ourselves, our communities and to our planet.
Moses follows this injunction with a reminder of the life-giving power of God’s word: “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (v 47). The consequences of straying too far from this path have repeatedly been shown to be disastrous—diminishing life, for individuals, for communities, and as we know all too well today, for the planet. In contrast, the flourishing of life is a consequence of living the Torah, of following the path that is revealed when we allow God’s word to lead us.
The Sabbath between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuvah—the Sabbath of Repentance—in which case parashat Ha’azinu has a special set of readings for the Haftarah. The haftarah from Hosea begins with the words Shuvah Israel ꜥad YHWH, “Return Israel to the Eternal your God” (14:2, 14:1 in Christian Bibles), which is followed immediately by the imperative shuvu ʾel YHWH, “Return to the Eternal” (14:3, 14:2). Michael Fishbane notes: “Hosea’s call for repentance opens the discourse, but it is, in fact, the hinge of a human—divine dynamic” (p. 377).
One of the most common terms used for sin in the Scriptures shared by Jews and Christians is ḥet, which suggests missing the mark or target you are aiming for—or indeed the path that you should be following. We are reminded in Proverbs that “one who moves too hurriedly misses the path” (19:2). This week’s haftarah from Hosea and the feast of Yom Kippur that will follow shortly, remind each of us that missing the path is not the end of the story—no matter how many times this might happen. We are continually being invited to return to life, to return to our Creator, to experience God’s forgiveness and return to the path that gives us life.
For Reflection and Discussion: To return to the Eternal also implies that we must turn our back on those things that diminish life. What am I being asked to turn away from? How will this lead to life?
Bibliography: Fishbane, M., The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarah (JPS, 2002); Plaut, W.G. and Stein, D.E. eds., The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised (New York: 2006).
This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Mark David Walsh, Australia, Bat Kol Alumnus: 2001, ’02, ’04, ’13