Weekly Davar: Ha’azinu 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

God told Moses to ascend Mount N’vo to die ‘in the middle of the day’. The Rabbis explain that the Jewish People had told themselves they were not letting Moses leave them without a fight. He had taken them out of Egypt, split the sea, given them the Torah and provided mannah for 40 years. Who wants a leader like that to move on? God responded by taking Moses ‘in the middle of the day’ to show the Jewish People that no one could stop Him from taking Moses back.

It always amazes me. Never have the Jewish People complained about a leader in his lifetime more than they did about Moses. They didn’t listen to him; they slandered him; they abused him; they even tried to kill him. And yet, when he was leaving them, they were desperate for him to stay?!

Human beings, and most especially we Jews, love to hang on to the past. The past always looks so much rosier than the now for a simple reason. When we look at what is in front of us right now, whilst we might see the goodness that it is offering, we are also well aware of the challenges and hardships involved. If we are not careful, that feeling of hardship can easily cast a very long and dark shadow over the pleasures that are here for us at any given moment.

I sometimes look back on my teenage years with very fond memories. Until I remind myself what a miserable time they really were for me!  But that’s the nature of nostalgia. We forget how things really were and only see the past through rose coloured lenses.

The problem with all of this is that we are often challenged to enjoy the ‘now’ because the past seems like it was so much better. Egypt was such a miserable experience for the Jewish People. But when Moses was the present, leading them into a desert, suddenly the ‘past’ of Egypt seemed oh so appealing. Then, when Moses was about to become the past, all of a sudden the Jewish People didn’t want to let him go.

The truth is that the Jewish People did fine without Moses. New and different leaders came along who led each generation just as well as Moses led his. The Jewish People grew; they developed; and they thrived – all without Moses to lead them. Keeping Moses alive was not the solution for them. The solution was to realise the incredible possibilities that remained for them even when he was not there.

Concern to hold on to what is in the past clouds our perception of the new possibilities that exist now that the past is gone. And it is the nature of our world that there are always new possibilities coming to fruition.

Life is what we make of the moments we are given. And every moment is of identical potential. The past and future are no better than today. In the grandest of all equalities, all moments are created completely equal in their potential for us to realise the rich and varied possibilities that God constantly places before us. God is not in the past, nor is He in the future – He is outside of time. He exists only in the eternal ‘now’ that every moment provides. God is right here, right now – it’s not worth living anywhere else.

Shabbat Shalom and well over the fast,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

The Torah portion is a song; a beautiful poem taught to the Jewish people by Moses.

It recounts the trials and tribulations of 40 years in the desert. Jewish consciousness, until the present generation, was to teach every Jewish child to memorize Ha’azinu. In this manner, we internalised the lessons of our history. Santayana said, ‘He who does not learn the lessons of history is doomed to repeat them.’ We Jews seem to have proven him right over and over again.

The portion ends with Moses being told to ascend Mount N’vo to see the Promised Land before he dies and is ‘gathered to his people’. This turn of phrase, the Rabbis explain, is an allusion to the afterlife.

It’s all set up and ready for the tragic and yet uplifting climax. Make sure you tune in to a local Shul on Simchas Torah for the epic denouement. Dickens is my second favourite author. God is the best.

Weekly Davar: Mattos-Maasei 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

I heard this idea from one of my rabbis, Rabbi Yitzi Blachman, at our graduation this week. It’s simple, but, I believe, profound.

This week’s portion lists forty-two journeys that the Children of Israel undertook during their time in the desert. Rabbi Blachman asked why did the Torah need to write down the details of every journey? If its purpose, as a book, is to provide wisdom, not historical details, why do we need to know every journey that was undertaken?

He answered that each journey was a part of the overall journey – from Mt Sinai to Israel. It was a roundabout route, and it took them forty years, but they made it in the end. His point was that whilst the journey took forty years, the actual arrival at the destination was immediate. So much of our lives is the journey, he pointed out, not the destination. So much more of our time is spent achieving, than the achievements themselves. More than life is about the destination, it is about the journey itself.

In Jewish thinking, the destination is what might be called spiritual enlightenment, connection to God, or achieving Godliness ourselves. But this is a moving target. There are always higher levels. There is no point at which one sits back and says, ‘I am enlightened’. In fact, believing oneself to be enlightened, is, for me, quite a good sign that a person is not. And hence, life is really only a journey and nothing else. Destinations are all false peaks because there is no peak. That might sound discouraging but I feel it is the opposite. Imagine a train journey in a comfortable train through a magical land of incredible sights and wonders to behold. Would you want to reach your destination? This is life. An amazing journey – limitless contribution for us to make, limitless growth, limitless development, limitless giving and limitless love. Limitless hope, limitless possibility. Limitless wisdom to discover. And even though it does appear to come to an end for all of us, in my mind, that end is merely another stop along the way, a segue into an even greater and more glorious journey. The same train ride, only on steroids. The rabbis say that for the enlightened, there is no rest – not in this world, nor in the next. Because rest is a break in the journey of life. And who would want a break from such an incredible experience?

The only thing to do is to hang on and enjoy the ride. Every moment of life is here for us to savour and enjoy, to grow and develop. And, funnily enough, one of the only things that gets in the way of that happening is when we set up arbitrary destinations for ourselves – I need to achieve this; I need to accomplish that; I need some specific outcome to my actions. It’s like sitting on that wonderful train journey and be squinting our eyes to try to see what is beyond the horizon. All of the beauty that is right in front of us goes out of focus. So too with life – whilst we do orient towards specific destinations, obsessing about them takes us out of the pleasures of the moment. Focusing on the woods, we lose sight of the trees. And not only do we not reach the destination, we don’t even enjoy the ride.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

Mattos includes the laws of making and annulling vows and the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad for their portion of land to be east of the Jordan River. Maasei includes the complete list of journeys in the desert and God’s instructions to divide the land by a national lottery system. God establishes the borders of the land of Israel. New leadership is appointed. The laws are set forth regarding manslaughter and murder.