Ha'azinu – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

Today’s reading, Ha’azinu, is one of two sections of the Torah described as a song. The first was Shira Ha Yam at the Red Sea: a song of triumph. (In Neviim there are the additional songs of Joshua, Devorah and David, also songs of triumph.) Ha'azinu is a Shira, but very different in tone. It is written not for the Jews of the desert generation but for future generations. It would be relevant throughout our long and troubled history.

When many evils and troubles shall befall them, then this song shall answer them as a witness

Knowing that he was about to die and not enter the Land what would have been in Moses’ mind? Famously, in the poem by Dylan Thomas, we hear the words

Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

A poem by Pinehas Hakohen, living in Tiberias in the 8th CE, explored Moses’ resistance to the prospect of death He imagined a dialogue between Moses and God demanding answers to why he is to be punished. (This poem was, up to recent times, part of the Simchat Torah service in Corfu and in Rome).

The Sedra contains soothing words

My lesson will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew; like storm winds on vegetation and like raindrops on grass

And also words of anger

Destruction is not His; it is His children's defect you crooked and twisted generation

But in the end it is love that is enduring sentiment

Set your hearts to all of the words which I bear witness for you this day, so that you may command your children to observe to do all the words of this Torah.
For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land

As we developed synagogues, the Shema became a central prayer, preceded in the Ma’ariv service by אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם (“Ahavat Olam”), containing the familiar words

Ki hem hayyenu ve’orekh yamenu
For they are our life and the length of our days

May the length of our lives and days in the coming year be peaceful and in good health.

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