Torah Portion

Haazinu – Listen

Heaven and earth are the witnesses Moshe brings to make secure the promise the Jews pledge to keep the Torah. This way, if the Jews don’t keep the Torah the way we promised we would, heaven and earth can punish us (with storms, droughts, bad crops).

Passuk Daled: “The Rock’s (Almighty) works are perfect, all His ways are just…there is no injustice…”

The statement that “life isn’t fair” is not a Jewish concept. Hashem is perfect. Therefore, anything He does is perfect. We might not understand it, but that doesn’t mean it is unfair – it just means we see too little in life to understand the big picture. Moshe Rabeinu at one point asked to “see Hashem”, meaning he wanted to understand G-d’s reasoning. G-d explained to Moshe that no one can see Hashem, but Moshe gets a glimpse of G-d’s “back”. What does this mean and what does Moshe see? Moshe is shown a scene, like out of a movie. A man is traveling in the woods and a highwayman comes along and kills him, then steals his wallet full of money. The scene closes. Then Moshe is shown another scene. He sees two men, one an elderly tramp and another younger man. They get into an argument, and the younger man kills the tramp. A wallet falls out of the tramp’s pocket but the murderer doesn’t notice. He is too panicked, trying to hide the body. He finally hides the dead man and runs away from the area. Moshe then sees a little boy come along and find the tramp’s wallet, which is stuffed with money, and the boy happily runs home with the money. The scene ends. Moshe is puzzled. What is the meaning of this, he asks Hashem. Hashem explains that the tramp was the highwayman. The wallet of money the little boy found was the original money stolen. And the little boy was the son of the first murdered man, which means that the money rightfully belonged to him. That is what is meant to see the “back” of Hashem – that looking back at history, sometimes we see glimpses of how Hashem rights the wrongs and passes judgment. As Hillel said, “you were drowned because you drowned others and he who drowned you will be drowned.”

Our view is imperfect and that is why we think life is unfair. G-d and His ways are perfect. To the craziest tiniest degree. Another example to help us understand it. Yirmiyahu was a prophet who had to tell the Jews that Hashem would punish them with Galus if they didn’t do Teshuva. He was not a very popular fellow, because the Jews wanted to continue doing their immoral things. So, at one point, some folks took Yirmiyahu and threw him into a pit full of slimy mud where he was slowly drowning. Hashem had someone throw down a rope to him and he crawled out hand, over hand. Now, if you ever did rope climbing, you would know that pulling yourself up on a rope is painful to the hands which become blistered and bleeding. Yirmiyahu was mystified and he asked, “G-d, if you were saving me already, why not with a ladder, which would have been way more convenient for me.” To which G-d replied, “Yirmiyahu, with what did your great-grandmother save the lives of the spies – with a rope. A rope for a rope is how I saved you.” Yirmiyahu’s great-grandmother was Rachav HaZonah, and yes, she had saved the lives of the Jewish spies by lowering them from her roof with a rope. G-d rewards and punishes with the tiniest details in place. No one gets more than he deserves or less than he deserves in life.

“A G-d of faith without injustice…” Rashi says that this means “rewards good people in the world to come and bad people in this world.” Why is that justice that the really good people’s reward is saved up for the next world, and the really bad people, any good they do is paid for in this world? The reasoning is this way: the wicked are usually horrible, but occasionally, for a brief moment, they do something good. Therefore their reward comes in this world, which is a temporary world (think about it, how long do we live, maybe seventy or eighty years so even if we are rich all our lives, it is less than one hundred years that pleasure). A righteous person is usually good with some occasional brief moments of messing up. Therefore, such a person gets punishment in this world (some toothache or frustration in life which is a short life anyway) and all his reward is saved up for the next world which has no end –the reward is forever.

Passuk Zayin: “remember the days of the world [history] understand the years of each generation, ask your father and he will speak to you, your elders and they will tell you.”

One of the places where you can clearly see G-d’s Hand is history. Story about end of WWII is pretty wild. Everything was just a coincidence –the day that the Allies set for the invasion “happened” to be the birthday of the German general and they had no clue when they were setting it that the general would be away celebrating. On the Russian front, the German tanks “happened” to go kaput. The Germans had remembered the story about Napoleon not winning the war in Russia because of the cold, so they had prepared well. They had packed all the war tanks in hay so that it shouldn’t freeze too much. However, there “happened” to be in the hay some field mice who were hungry…and ate the wires of the tanks. All these “happenstances” piled up, finally bringing an end to WWII. As people lived through it, Yad Hashem might not have been so visible, but looking backwards, you can see and understand how Hashem orchestrates every detail in the world. That is why learning history is so important.

In secular society, the young are worshipped. In Judaism, we understand that we are being born after much has happened in the world and that we need to look to previous generations to understand their connection to the previous generation – stretching all the way back to Creation of the world.Passuk Ches: “….Hashem set the boundaries of the nations according to the number of Jews.”

Rashi: There are only seventy nations because there were 70 Jews who went down to Mitzrayim. S we see there is one Jew who can influence/exert spiritual energy on each nation.

Chofetz Chaim says that the nations of the world are being foolish. They took our Torah and don’t understand this simple Passuk – G-d sets boundaries of nations according to the Jews, which means that nations prosper when they have many Jews living there. If we look at who was world power in the world, you see it was directly connected to their allowing Jews in their land. Spain was great while they had Jews there. They then dumped the Jews out and they became an insignificant land. England, France, Germany — while Jews lived there, they were “world players”. When they chased out the Jews their economy suffered and they fell apart (that is why France kept invited the Jews back a few times after they kicked us out and that is why England wanted Jews back in its land).

Passuk Tes: “Because Hashem’s portion is His people, Yaakov is the rope of His heritage.”

The Jewish nation starts fully with the third of the Avos, Yaakov. A rope is made of different strands twisted together, which makes it more unlikely to break. We are taught, ‘three stranded ropes will not easily fray’. Avraham had a bad son. Yitzchok did too. But when Yaakov came around, he was the third “strand”, finally the sense of Judaism was strong and all his children ended up good. Three generations of folks keeping Mitzvos helps future generations be firmly attached to G-d. So, Chevra, if you want to make sure for hundreds of years your descendants will be good, you be good, raise good kids and influence your grandkids too. Three generations— you have a great strong rope of Mesorah, of attachment to G-d that cannot be broken easily.

The next few verses talk about how gentle Hashem was even when saving us and now Hashem will take us to Eretz Yisroel and give us riches and every delicious gift. Throughout history, G-d keeps trying to give us riches and see if we already learned how to handle it without losing our sense of self. Yet:

Passuk Tes Vav: Yeshurun [the Jews] became fat and they rebelled…and he left G-d who made him.”

Unfortunately folks are more likely to keep Torah when they are poor and oppressed. Think about it – Many when they were being hounded by the communists kept Mitzvos and wanted spirituality. They come here to America where all is free and they make it, build big houses, and have their children end up looking like the children of Harlem. Shabbos, Kashrus, all out the window. Public school for the children. That is what we do with the gifts G-d gave? Hashem gives a lot of money in our generation, and what are we busy with – finding the outfit with the designer label that some drunk in France says we have to wear.

So what happens then – it is a cycle, Jewish history. We are in pain, G-d saves us, He gives us blessings, we become “drunk” with success and sin, we get punished….and the cycle starts again. The Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust – will we never learn??? Here in the USA we had it so good until this economy started crumbling – and what did we do with the blessings – our intermarriage rate went up, we headed away from G-d.

Passuk Yud Ches: The Rock [Hashem] Who bore you, you made “teshi”. Rashi translates Teshi to be Tishkach – you forgot G-d. Rashi then brings another translation from the rabbonim that Teshi is from the root word Tash, which means to sap the strength of, when you drain the power of something. When we forget Hashem, we make His power to help us be drained. In other words, G-d has set up the world in such a way, that when we ignore Him, there is a direct consequence that we cannot tap into His saving powers when we need it. When folks ask “why did G-d allow the Holocaust to happen” you can explain that in Sefer Devarim we were warned it would happen, and that this passuk explains why Hashem did not save us when the punishment came – because when we pretend to forget G-d, more interested in TV, movies and secular society than in what it means to be a Jew, then G-d warned us that “teshi” – G-d will deplete all saving factors so that when punishment comes, there will be no miraculous saving.

Why is Hashem referred to here as Tzur-Rock? Because we are nutty, batting our heads against a Rock that will not budge. Did you ever watch a skinny little two year old throwing a temper tantrum and trying to get past a 250 pound Mom. It is comical to see this little thing keep throwing himself at his Mom trying to move her. When we think in each generation that our own selfish desires are what we want and we begin throwing a spiritual temper tantrum, we have to remember that vision. Hashem will be way past when we are crumbling in our graves. Torah life will exist way past pop-star’s fame. Tzur – they are immovable. There will always be frum people. There will always be Torah. And those who throw themselves against it are just like the weakling kid – laughable. No one can change that, G-d is forever, Torah is forever, and those who try to go against G-d and Torah are wasting their energy.

Then come the descriptions of how Hashem will punish the Jews when they sin against Him.

Then comes the punishment of those who harm us.

When Moshe finished this song of warning to the Jews, Hashem told him to go onto Har Nevo so that he can see Eretz Yisroel and then die. Moshe died the same way as Aharon – He was told to lay down, he lay on the bed. He was told to stretch out his hands and feet, he did. He was told to close his eyes, and he closed his eyes. He was told to close his mouth, he did and his Neshama passed on to the next world. It was a completely peaceful death When Moshe saw Aharon dying like that, he said, how lucky to be able to die so peacefully. Hashem told Moshe he would get the same peaceful departure from this world.