Ha’azinu / Rosh Hashana: The Soul’s Thirst

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Ha’azinu and Rosh Hashana

Right after Rosh Hashana is the Shabbat called “Shabbat Shuvah,” or
the “Shabbat of Returning/Repentance,” so called because (among other
reasons) the haftarah, or prophetic reading, calls upon the Israelites
to return to God. The Torah portion itself is Moshe’s final
impassioned plea to the nation, a plea for loyalty to covenant in the
new land. Moshe opens up his poem with a promise that he’s going to
say something significant:

” Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the
words of my mouth!
My lesson will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew; like storm
winds on vegetation and like raindrops on grass.”
(D’varim/Deuteronomy 32:1)

Our friend Rashi says that Moshe’s words of Torah are compared to
windy rain and dew because just as the rain and dew cause the plants
and crops to grow, so too words of Torah cause people to grow and give
life to those who hear them. From my perspective, it’s important to
note that “Torah” is to be understood here not only as the fixed words
of the Biblical text, but more widely as the Jewish conversation with
text and tradition. Torah is the words on the scrolls, but it’s also
the words of the prayerbook, the commentaries, and even- brace
yourself- the words of the teachings, sermons and meditations that
rabbis and educators and others prepare for the holy days.

Moshe compared his words to life-giving water. This image resonates
for me as I sit in a building with hundreds and hundreds of chairs set
up to accommodate the holy day crowds, who come because they are
thirsting for something- perhaps a sense of being part of a larger
community, perhaps a connection with personal or Jewish history,
perhaps a reminder that the soul needs attention as much as the body
or intellect. Like plants soaking up the water after a dry spell, our
communities soak up music, Torah, prayer, Shofar, and the very
experience of just being together, and with grace, the Days of Awe
give life, and sustain.

I thank you all for allowing me to share words of Torah in the past
year, and look forward to another year of learning together.

L’Shana Tovah U’Metukah- a good and sweet New Year-


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