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Blog - Torah Insights

The Music of the Song

The Music of the Song

“Listen heavens and I shall speak and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.[1]"

This is the opening verse of the song of Haazinu, the song that Moshe spoke to his people on the day of his passing.

The song is poetic, powerful and poignant.

It begins with an introduction, followed by a description of G-d’s kindness to the Jewish people:

“He found them in a desert land, and in a desolate, howling wasteland. He encompassed them and bestowed understanding upon them; He protected them as the pupil of His eye. As an eagle awakens its nest, hovering over its fledglings, it spreads its wings, taking them and carrying them on its pinions.[2]

The song continues with the prediction that the Jews would eventually turn away from G-d:

“And Yeshurun (Israel) became fat and kicked… You forgot G-d who made you. You began to serve idols that are new; your fathers never imagined them”[3]. (The song continues with G-d saying) “I will hide my face from them I will see what will be their end for they are a generation of changes; they are not [recognizable] as My children whom I have reared[4].

What follows is a story almost as sad as Jewish history:

“I will link evils upon them. I will use up My arrows on them. They will sprout hair from famine, attacked by demons, excised by Meriri. I will incite the teeth of livestock upon them, with the venom of creatures that slither in the dust. From outside, the sword will bereave, and terror from within; young men and maidens, suckling babes with venerable elders.[5]

The song closes with a positive note, the song predicts that ultimately: 

“The nations will cause His (G-d’s) nation to rejoice, for he (G-d) will avenge the blood of his servants… and he will atone his land, his nation.[6]

This song was sung quite often in the holy temple. Each day, while the priests would offer the daily offerings, the Levites would accompany the service with music; they would play musical instruments and sing specific songs of praise from King David’s book of Psalms. All of the songs sung were joyous, and were meant to imbue the service with a spirit of joy, in fulfillment of the commandment “Serve the Lord with joy”[7].

Surprisingly, the song that the Levites sang every Shabbat, as the priests offered the Musaf offering, the additional offering for the Shabbat, was non-other than the Song of Haazinu. They would sing one of its parts per week, completing the song every six weeks.

Why this song? Isn’t this the wrong message for the occasion? Granted, the part sung on week one, two, and six, were indeed inspiring, but what about the weeks in between, in which the portions of the song contained the tragedies that would befall our people? How could a person feel uplifted while the Levites were singing “I (G-d) said I will cause them to be forgotten, their remembrance will be destroyed from mankind”[8]?!

The answer is, in the weeks that the Levites sang the bitter parts of the song; they were teaching us how to overcome the tragic stanzas of our lives.

The Levites were teaching us to be patient as we allow the song to unfold.

We should not expect to wake up each and every day of our life and hear a joyous song playing in our ears. There will be days on which we hear no song, all we can hear is lamentation. Yet, the message of the Levites is, that each stanza is part of a larger song which can be heard, only if we come back next week for more. Ultimately, we will persist, and we will find the joy. We then will realize that the difficult part of the road is just that, a road to a deeper and more meaningful joy.

When everything is going well it is difficult to feel complete joy. Part of us is always worried that the blessings in our life will not last. We can’t be fully happy with our successes because deep down we fear that we may lose them. We can’t fully celebrate our relationships because deep down we are worried that they may end. The young couple, whose love is pure, is not fully happy because they are not sure whether their love is deep enough to survive a major conflict, whether it is strong enough to overcome pain and resentment. Only when the relationship survives deep challenges, can the joy be complete. For only then do we know that the bond is unbreakable.

The Portion of the song of Haazinu, is always read in the midst of the month of the holidays, in the month that contains both the days of awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as the days of joy, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. In the beginning of the month we face the pain created by our weakness. We think about the sins of the past year, we think about the pain of separation caused by sin, the pain of separation from G-d and from people we sinned against. In the days of awe, we overcome the pain, we return, we reconnect. And then we realize that our relationship with G-d is deeper and stronger than we imagined. We realize that our bond with G-d is unbreakable. That no matter how much pain we caused, no matter how far we tried to run, he has been waiting for us; waiting for us to return, waiting to accept us, waiting to embrace us.     

We discover that the intense joy of Sukkot and Simchat Torah is only possible after we experience the days of awe. We discover that all parts of the journey are integral to the intense joy. We discover that they are all part of the same song.

No matter what life brings us, we remember that we are in the middle of a song. If we keep singing, keep playing the notes, we will discover the music. We will discover that there was music all along.[9]

 

___________________ 

1 Deuteronomy 32:1

2 Deuteronomy 32:10-11.

3 Deuteronomy 32:15.

4 Deuteronomy 32:20.

5 Deuteronomy 32:23-25.

6 Deuteronomy 32:43.

7 Psalms 100:2.

8 Deuteronomy 32:26.

9 Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutey Sichos, Vol. 24, Haazinu.  

Unity or Diversity?

Unity or Diversity?

Diversity is present in society today, more than ever before. All major companies and organizations seek to highlight their real, or staged, commitment to diversity. A society that values diversity is one that values a multiplicity of cultures, races, opinions, etc.

What does Judaism, which values oneness, think about diversity? Is there an inherent contradiction between Judaism, which is all about the unity of G-d, and the celebration of diversity?  

The universe is indeed a diverse place. Seven billion humans share planet earth with an estimated 10 to 14 million forms of life. Yet, at the core, all life share the same basic building blocks, and at the soul level, all life is sustained by a soul, part of the one G-d.   

The more we focus on the external, the more we focus on the body, the more multiplicity we see. The more we study the soul, the more we focus on the internal, the more we focus of the spark of G-d within every creation, the more we see oneness. 

The same is true within our own life. On a given day, we divide our time between a multiplicity of activities and roles. A single person on a single day can be a farmer, a father, a child, a husband, a banker, a tennis coach, a friend, a philanthropist, and a garbage remover. This often leads to great tension and conflict, threatening to rob the person of peace of mind, and of a wholesome life.

Each activity, each role, has a soul, an inner meaning and significance. On the soul level, praying and eating breakfast share an inner purpose. We can connect to G-d both by feeding the body and by feeding the soul.     

The Jewish people too, are comprised of people of diverse emotional and intellectual makeup. What bonds us as a people is the feeling that we are all standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, with one soul. With a shared mission and destiny.

Moses understood that once the Jewish people would cross the Jordan River and enter the land of Israel, leaving the experiences of the desert behind them, the Divine revelation at Sinai would become the stuff of ancient history.

Moses understood that in order for Judaism to survive, the Jew in the future generation would need to experience, not just learn about, the uniting experience of Sinai. Moses therefore communicated the Mitzvah of Hakhel (assembly), the commandment that men women and children gather in the temple in Jerusalem, at the end of every seventh year, to hear the Torah being read, reenacting the revelation at Sinai. As the Torah states[1]:

Then, Moses commanded them, saying, "At the end of [every] seven years, at an appointed time, in the Festival of Succoth, [after] the year of release. When all Israel comes to appear before the Lord, your God, in the place He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears. Assemble the people: the men, the women, and the children, and your stranger in your cities, in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and fear the Lord, your God, and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah.

Moses taught that once in every seven years, immediately following the Sabbatical year, we celebrate  the year of Hakhel [this year, 5776, is a Hakhel year on the Jewish Calendar] during which time we must unite. We must gather all the diverse parts of our life, all the diverse souls around us, and unite through the study of Torah which allows us to dig deep and discover the unifying soul. 

 

 


 [1] Deuteronomy 31:12

Choose Life

Choose Life

On the last day of his life, Moses speaks to the Jewish people, and tells them to choose life:

This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that I have warned] you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live [1].

One does not have to be a genius to understand the superiority of life over death. Why then does Moses spend his last moments with the Jewish people saying something so obvious? [2]

If there are two distinct paths, one path of life and another of death, then, indeed, we do not need Moses to tell us to choose life. The reality, however, is much more complex. Moses is addressing the reality that for the most part, there is but one path. Yet, the path itself is a combination of both good and evil. Moses is saying that everything one does, any activity one engages in, any relationship one pursues, contains both life and death. Moses is telling a person to discover and choose the life within any given act. 

Everything on this earth is comprised of matter and spirit, of body and soul. The body, even while alive, represents the element of death, as it is destined to die and decompose. The same is true of all matter. It will eventually decompose or change its form. Its current existence is destined to cease to exist, and therefore, even in the fleeting moment of cosmic time when it does exist, it represents death.

The soul of every person, and of all matter, is life. The soul is alive, not only at this given moment; but rather it is alive for eternity.

When Moses tells the people to choose life, he is not telling them to disengage from the material and to cleave to the spiritual. On the contrary, if we look carefully we will notice that Moses never says that there are two paths, one of which a person should choose. Moses is saying that when a person takes the one and only path, the path of life on this earth, which consists of the fusion of body and soul, he should choose to cleave to the dimension of life within the given act. 

When a person interacts with the world around him, he has a choice. He can engage, enjoy, and relate to the externality of the thing/person/place, to the material dimension. Alternatively, he can relate to the soul of the thing/person/place. He can engage, enjoy, and relate to its essence, its soul, its life.

When one takes a bite of food, one can practice mindful eating, paying careful attention to the taste and texture of the food. Alternatively, one can choose life, one can be mindful of the divine spark in the food, waiting to become part of human energy, waiting to become fuel for a good deed, thus returning the spark to its spiritual source.

When one interacts with family and friends, with co-workers and neighbors, one can look at the external aspect of the person. Alternatively, one can choose life. One can choose to focus on the essence of the person, on the soul.

Moreover, when one stands in Shul on Rosh Hashanah, with a heart full of hope and prayer, for a blessed new year, one thinks about his needs, desires and aspirations. One can and should choose life, thinking about the needs, desires and aspirations of his soul as well.

On the last day of his life Moses implores every Jew to choose soul, to choose life.

 


 [1]Deuteronomy 30:19

 [2] There are multiple meanings to the commandment to choose life. On the simplest level Moses is telling us to not be suicidal. While the simple meaning applies only to dramatic circumstances where one must choose between physical life and physical death, the mystical interpretation, offered here, applies to every interaction, every moment of every day.  

Entering the Land

Entering the Land

It is a Mitzva which can only be fulfilled once a Jew enters the land of Israel. After waiting all winter and spring, the farmer’s trees begin to give their fruit. The farmer would then take the first fruit, the Bikurim, and bring them to the Temple and bestow them upon the Priest, as a recognition that all the land, its produce and its blessings are a gift from G-d.

As the Torah says in the opening words of this week’s Parsha:

And it will be, when you come into the land which the Lord, your God, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it, that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the Lord, your God, is giving you. And you shall put [them] into a basket and go to the place which the Lord, your God, will choose to have His Name dwell there. And you shall come to the Kohen who will be [serving] in those days, and say to him, "I declare this day to the Lord, your God, that I have come to the land which the Lord swore to our forefathers to give us."[1]

When exactly does the commandment begin?

An important difference exists between the commandment of the first fruit and other commandments that apply to the produce of the land (i.e. the commandment to gift  the priest with the first piece of dough).

Historically, the Land of Israel was not divided amongst the Jews at one time. It took seven years for the Jewish people to conquer the land of Israel and another seven years to divide the land amongst the tribes and families. The people who were first in getting their portion of the land were enjoying the fruit of their land years before the last Jew received his portion of the land. Other commandments that apply to the produce of the land take effect as soon as an individual Jew enters the land and takes possession of a portion of land. The first fruit were different. The verse states:

“When you come into the land which the Lord, your God, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it”.

The first fruit are brought to the temple only after “and you possess it and settle in it”. As Rashi explains: “This [verse] teaches us that they were not obligated [to bring] first-fruits until they conquered the Land and divided [all of] it [the land].” Meaning no farmer was obligated to thank G-d for his fruit until the entire land was divided.

Why not?

If the purpose of the commandment is to thank G-d, why the need to wait until every last farmer receives his portion of land?

The answer lies in the verse that describes the feeling the farmer must experience while bringing the fruit:

Then, you shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household you, the Levite, and the stranger who is among you.[2]

The purpose of the Bikurim is not just thanksgiving; the purpose is joyous thanksgiving. Herein lies a powerful message the Torah is teaching the farmer: yes, you are happy when your trees bear fruit. However, when you come to the place which “the Lord, your God, will choose to have His Name dwell there”, you must experience a deeper part of your soul. You must reveal the essence of your soul, which is in fact, one with all souls of Israel, and is thus incapable of experiencing the joy of inheriting the land, so long as there is another Jew still waiting for his portion.

It is easy to feel a bond with the collective Jewish people in times of crisis or in moments of overwhelming miracles. At these moments, we are shaken to our core, and at our core, we are all one. The Torah teaches that we must take these feelings of love and unity with us “when you come into the land”.

It is easy to feel connected when we are all at the foot of Mount Sinai, but we must carry the unity with us as we enter the land. In the land of Israel each man sits in his own home, “every man under his vine and under his fig-tree”, trying to grow his own personal wealth. The economic system tells us that each man is on his own. Here, the Torah is instructing us otherwise.

The teaches us to know that we cannot proclaim our joy while a fellow Jew is still wondering about. We know that our soul will not feel a full measure of joy until every last Jew is joyous.[3]

 


[1]        Deuteronomy 26:1-3.

[2]        Deuteronomy 26:11.

[3]         Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutey Sichos, Ki Savo, Vol. 9, Sicha 1.

 

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