Blog - Torah Insights

Should We Emulate Moses or Isaiah? - האזינו


Should We  Emulate Moses or Isaiah? 

Moses began the song of Haazinu with poetic language. He called upon both heaven and earth to bear witness to his parting words to the Jewish people: 

Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter! (Deuteronomy 32:1)

The Midrash points out that Isaiah too, in his very first prophecy, employed a similar phrase: 

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth (Isaiah 1:2)

However, there is a significant difference between the words of Moses and Isaiah.

Upon addressing the heavens, Moses who was “close to heaven” in a spiritual sense, used the term "give ear", (Haazinu), which implies addressing someone who is close by. And since Moses was distant from  earthly matters, he used the term, "let the earth hear", as "hear" can imply hearing from a distance. Isaish, by contrast, was "distant from the heavens and close to the earth", and therefore he said, "Hear {from, a distance}, O heavens, and give ear {implying closeness}, O earth". 

The question, of course, is, where does that leave us? 

The etymology of the word Torah is a lesson, because every phrase in the Torah is not just informative, but rather it is intended for us to implement in our own life. If Isaiah could not live up to Moses' example and be "close to the heavens", how can we possibly expect to be "close to the heavens and distant from the earth"? 

In a beautiful essay on our Torah portion, the Rebbe explains that the two expressions of Moses and Isaiah build upon each other. At first, one is called upon to be like Moses, "close to the heavens and distant from the earth". When we begin our day, we dedicate time to pray and study, dedicating a few moments to escape the confines of earth and soar to the expanses of heaven. In these moments, we, like Moses, are close to the heavens. Yet, that is but the first step in our spiritual journey. The greater and perhaps more critical achievement is that after we are like Moses, we advance and learn from Isaiah. We turn toward earth. Because the purpose of life is not to find solace in heaven but rather to extend our influence into the world. After we study Torah and become "close to the heavens", we are empowered to become "close to the earth", transforming it into a place of spirituality and harmony, until the time when earth itself will become a home for G-d, a place of goodness, kindness, and holiness.   

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 9 Haazinu 1

A Year Empowered by Shabbat - ראש השנה

A Year Empowered by Shabbat

Shabbat contains two opposite elements. On one hand, Shabbat is referred to as Shabbat Kodesh, the holy Shabbat. The etymology of the Hebrew word for holy (Kodesh) is separate and apart. Indeed, Shabbat is the day when we are removed from work, uplifted from daily concerns and worries, and dedicated to holiness, spirituality, study, and prayer. 

On the other hand, Shabbat is a time of physical pleasure and enjoyment. As the verse (Isaiah 58:13) states, “and you call the Sabbath a delight”, implying that Shabbat must be a time of pleasure and delight. Indeed, Maimonides states: 

What is meant by [Sabbath] delight? This refers to our Sages' statement that a person must prepare a particularly sumptuous dish and a pleasantly flavored beverage for the Sabbath. All of this must be done within the context of a person's financial status. (Mainimudes, Shabbat 29:7)


Shabbat contains these two extremes because this precisely is the vision and ultimate goal of Judaism. The holiness and the spiritual experiences of our lives must infuse and permeate our physical and mundane existence.  

The Jewish people refer to the beginning of the year not as the new year, but as the head (Rosh) of the year (Hashanah), because just as the head affects the entire body, Rosh Hashanah affects the entire year. This year, when Rosh Hashanah begins on Shabbat, the entire year is empowered by the energy of Shabbat. We are empowered to infuse the awareness of our spiritual purpose within every moment of the year. No matter how mundane a moment or experience may seem, we can charge the moment with joy and enthusiasm recognizing that the moment is part of our greater purpose in the world, making this world a place hospitable to holiness, G-dliness, and kindness. 

Adapted from the Rebbe's Public letter, 18 Elul 5749 


Get Yourself a Copy - נצבים וילך

Get Yourself a Copy

On the final day of his life, Moses relayed the last two commandments of the Torah, the commandment that the Jewish people assemble once every seven years to hear the Torah read: 

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. (Deuteronomy 31:12-14)

And the final commandment of the Torah, that every individual person write a Torah scroll: 

And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness for the children of Israel. (Deuteronomy 31:19)

Both commandments emphasize that, unlike other societies, the Torah is not the domain of a priestly or scholarly class. The Torah is the inheritance of every Jew. That is why the Torah is not exclusively housed in the temple but rather it must be in the possession of every Jew. That is why when the Torah is read after the Sabbatical, it is read not to a select group of delegates but rather to every man, woman, and child.  

As we prepare for the new year, let us apply the message of these commandments to our lives: we should purchase a book of the Torah (which is one way of fulfilling the commandment to write a Torah Scroll), and read it ourselves. Let us not rely on others to convey its messages to us; but rather we should interact with the book ourselves, enjoying the flavor and style of the original. And then, like the public assembly in Biblical times, we should join together to study Torah with other people, where we can be  enriched by each others perspective and input. 


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