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Parshat Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52)  

 

a.k.a  A Song of Love and Death 

  

After Moses’ previous speech to the children of Israel, God tells Moses to write down a song to teach to the Israelites. “Put this song in their mouths,” God says, “so that the words may become a witness for me, so they will remember what I have said and warned. After I bring them to the land that flows with milk and honey, they will eat and be satisfied and become obese. They will turn to other gods and serve them and mock me and break my covenant. Then when many terrible evils come upon them, this song will testify against them as witness; for I see this now.” 

 

On that day, Moses wrote down the song and taught it to the children of Israel. 

 

“...God of trust and no violence,
Righteous and upright is God.

But the children of God are so persistent in their evil and bad ways; 

they are so corrupt.

Ask yourselves, ‘Is this how you repay God?’
O people who are withered and not wise in any way!
Is God not the Father who calls you The Almighty’s Own?
Did God not form you when God gave you your purpose?

Israel, also known as Jacob, is the lot of God’s inheritance.  

God promised Jacob that his children would inherit the land and all its goodness.

God surrounds the children of Israel, instructs them,  

watches over them as the apple of his eye.

Then the children of Israel became overwhelmed with fat
and forsook the God who had made them
and they regarded as worthless the rock of God's salvation.

They impeded God’s rights with alien gods
angering God with abominations.
They made offerings to demons, non-gods,
Deities of whom they knew nothing,
New deities whom your fathers never knew nor dreaded.

God saw this and turned away in disdain and said,
I will hide my face from my sons and daughters.
I could make their memory disappear from among mankind
but then the oppressors of the Israelites might misunderstand

And they might say, ‘Our hand is powerful:
It is not God that caused all this!’

So, it is God who will judge God’s people
and reveal God’s changed decree concerning his servants.

See now that I am indeed ‘I’
And there is no god beside Me;

I kill and restore life;
I have inflicted wounds, and I will heal
Nothing can be snatched from my hand.

Therefore O nations, make God’s people’s lot a happy one,
For God will avenge the blood of his servants
And God will turn back vengeance upon his enemies,
And God’s people will atone for God’s world.” 

 

On that day, God spoke to Moses saying, “Go up to the Mountain of Transitions, to Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, facing Jericho, and see the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the sons of Israel as a possession. You will die on the mountain and be gathered there to your people, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. You must die because you trespassed against me in the middle of the children of Israel at the waters of contention in Kadesh, in the wilderness of Tzin; because you did not sanctify me whilst you were among the children of Israel. Thus, you shall see the Land only from afar; you will not go there, not to the land that I am giving to the sons of Israel.” 

 

Commentary on the 53rd parsha (portion) of the Torah. The Torah consists of the five books of Moses, the first part of the Old Testament. 

 

To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism and how we got where we are.

 

He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.

 

SAS: I am overwhelmed at God’s cruelty to Moses, Methuselah. Why is he to be so punished, while the Children of Israel, who are really much less worthy than Moses, may pass freely into the Promised Land? 

MS: Moses let God down, Sigmund. He was punished for forgetting to whom he owed his existence and the continued existence of his people. 

SAS: It’s harsh, Methuselah. It’s a harsh religion and God is a harsh God. I think Moses has been very unfairly treated. He has been God’s mouthpiece, even in this last song, and he has always delivered God’s message, irrespective of how unpopular it will be with the people. 

MS: I disagree with you so profoundly, Sigmund. God kept his word and delivered the Children of Israel to the Promised Land. He allowed Moses to live 120 years. He also committed himself to not allowing the enemies of the people of Israel to take credit for the suffering of the people. 

SAS:  Well, now that’s an interesting thing. The song starts off as a complaint against the Children of Israel for what they will do when they become fat and complacent, and abandon their God. God sees the future and describes how their enemies will triumph in the fall of the Israelites. Suddenly it seems to occur to him that he can’t have the enemies of the people feeling triumphant and crowing over their defeat of the Israelites because after all, it is he, God, who has brought about their downfall. He is the all-powerful one, and it is to his, and no-one else’s credit, that the Israelites have been brought this low. Now I hope you don’t mind my saying so, Methuselah, but your God is a little immature.  It is not enough for him that the Children of Israel are brought low; they must be seen to have been brought low by him. So, it’s all about him. How do you explain this? 

MS: I will ignore your blasphemous talk, because I am used to it, and I expect no better from you. The issue is that the Israelites must not think that their punishment is arbitrary and unwarranted. Their punishment is not a cruel twist of fate, nor is it a result of the strength of their enemies. They must be punished because they have wronged God, and it is God who must punish them. The enemies of the Israelites are not God’s people, and they must not be allowed to take credit for what God does. They are simply collateral beneficiaries of God’s wrath. And in this regard, God makes it clear that he can and will show the enemies of Israel, as well as the Children of Israel themselves, that he can strengthen the people of Israel, just as he can weaken them. It is in his gift, not in the power of the people of Israel and their enemies to weaken and strengthen according to his will. And his will is a just one, because the Children of Israel entered into a covenant with him, and he will see that the covenant is kept by all who entered into it. 

SAS: All very well, but I hardly think it was the best way for Moses to make his exit. After all he’d been through; after all the people had been through. Such pessimism, such trepidation! Terrifying shows of strength! Great rumbles of thunder! And nothing like, “Thanks for all you’ve done and all you’ve been through.” I don’t understand it, Methuselah. 

MS: No, you don’t do you? You lack a sense of awe. It makes you a very impoverished person. 

SAS: It’s difficult to feel awe when God gives the people a song, through Moses, that is far from a joyful and inspiring anthem. It anticipates wrongdoing on a grand scale and is full of threats and the prospect of punishments. It is a bullying, hectoring hymn that celebrates God’s unbridled power, not the union that he has established with his chosen people. I find awfulness here, not awesomeness.  

MS: Chosenness is an extremely serious business, Sigmund. It involves absolute dedication and responsibility at every turn. The song was not meant to have a congratulatory tone. The covenant has barely begun. History awaits the people and massive challenges lie ahead. They will be called to account at every turn, and their failures will result in bitter setbacks and punishments. It would have been extremely remiss of God not to warn the people of this. 

SAS: Well, one thing I won’t argue about – religion, when recommended, should always come with a warning. Something like: “Long-term adherence to this creed could result in serious depression, loss of self-esteem and perpetual feelings of guilt and worthlessness.” 

MS: Not to mention the richest blessings imaginable, stretching forth like an ocean with no horizon. Your analysis is woefully selective, my sad friend, and your insights limited to a few waves in the sea of knowledge. 

SAS: While you see and understand it all? You are your fellow scribes are very arrogant men, Methuselah. 

MS: Not at all. We are dutiful, respectful and obedient. When you’re open to God’s word, and you don’t filter his wisdom through a lens of expectation and philosophical criticism, you see so much more and understand so much more. It is God’s gift to those who listen to his word. 

SAS: Listen uncritically? That requires a level of blind faith and obedience that is not part of my persona. 

MS: Precisely, my friend. Precisely! 

 

History 

 

If you’d like to know more about the real history of our extended Jewish family, read on.

 

Chabad Messianism 

 

Chabad messianism, or Lubavitch messianism, is an interesting development in recent Judaism. The term incorporates a range of beliefs within the Chabad Hasidic movement relating to deceased leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994) and the claims that he was the Messiah. The claim dates back to 1952 when Rabbi Avraham Parizh printed a poster proclaiming him the Messiah. Then, in 1961, Parizh wrote in a letter that “the essence of infinite God” was evident within Schneerson’s persona. In the 1980s, an upsurge in messianism was claimed by some commentators to be evident in Judaism in response to questions about the Holocaust. Schneerson, who provided a sense of eschatological certainty in a time of fervent inquiry, provided many with the sense of reassurance they craved. He increased his eschatological rhetoric during the Gulf War of 1991, telling his followers that, “the time of your redemption has arrived”. A number of Chabad Hasidim believed that Schneerson would soon become the Messiah by ushering in the Messianic Age and constructing the Third Temple. In 1992, such messianic claims were gaining in intensity and did not abate even when he suffered a stroke that year when praying at the grave of his father-in-law. This stroke left him mute and partially paralyzed but he was able to communicate through head and hand movements. His supporters regularly sang, “Long live our Master, our Teacher, and our Rabbi, King Messiah, for ever and ever!” While he lay ill in hospital, 2,000 of his followers congregated in Stuyvesant Square and some were noted to stroke the hospital wall as though it were the Wailing Wall. 

 

Schneerson’s followers differed as to how he should be treated during his illness, one group arguing that medications would in some way affect his transformation to messiah status and affect the messianic revelation. Schneerson died on 12 June, 1994. After his death the US House of Representatives voted to award him the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously. This was for his “outstanding and enduring contributions toward world education, morality, and acts of charity”. 

 

Not even Schneerson’s death stopped the movement’s impetus, with some even claiming that their revered rabbi had not died but lived on in some kind of hidden state. Others claimed that there was a basis for the belief that the Messiah would return from the dead. Some slept close to his grave to be among the first to witness his resurrection. 

 

A minority of his devotees say he is able to answer their questions from beyond the grave through the practice of consulting Schneerson’s published letters, known as the Igrot Kodesh. Pamphlets containing Schneerson’s speeches were distributed by messianists after his death to support their claim that he was the messiah.  

 

Some supporters have gone further, claiming that the rabbi is God himself and this has led to the view that Christian ideas have infiltrated the Lubavitcher movement. Some followers have given weight to this impression by claiming that Rabbi Schneerson is more powerful in the spiritual realm than the human one now that his physical body has been outgrown. The ancient idea of the Messiah as a historical figure is being transformed into that of a Messiah ruling from a trans-worldly realm. 

 

Many Chabad Hasidim still recite the formula, “Long Live our Master, our Teacher, and our Rabbi, King Messiah, for ever and ever.” 

 

Here follows a discussion on this historical segment by Dad, Chaya and Ben. 

 

CHAYA: How did a man who did something as mundane as study mechanics and electrical engineering at a technical college in Paris become a candidate for messiah in the Jewish faith?   

DAD: Well, that’s just one of many things he did. More importantly, he studied Talmud, rabbinic literature and the Hasidic view of Kabbalah, and was ordained a rabbi. He and his father-in-law, Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, were related through Tzemach Tzedek, the third Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch. From 1920, Schneersohn served as the sixth Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch chasidic movement and was succeeded by his younger son-in-law.  

BEN: So Rabbi Schneerson got the proverbial leg-up in the family business. 

DAD: By all accounts he deserved the leadership and he was in no rush to take it. He only assumed the mantle a year after his father-in-law’s passing and he’d kept a low profile during the latter’s time in charge. By all accounts Rabbi Schneerson had an extraordinary aura about him and was a most inspiring and impressive man, not to mention a learned one. He founded a number of schools, kindergartens, synagogues and Chabad houses and was a charitable benefactor of many causes. The fact that he received a Congressional Gold Medal speaks volumes about his standing in the broader community, let alone the Lubavitch movement. Of course, being the messiah is another thing again. Part of the reason for that expectation was that he laid a lot of stress upon messianism and he awakened messianic expectation in his followers by saying things like, “Humble ones, the time of your redemption has arrived.”  Shortly before his death he told his people, “"I have done everything I can. Now I am handing over to you; do everything you can to bring Moshiach!" 

BEN: So obviously he didn’t see himself as the messiah. 

DAD: As far as I know he never claimed to be. But Rabbi Avraham Parizh certainly ramped up expectations on that score. However, when copies of his poster proclaiming Schneerson the messiah popped up in Tel Aviv, Schneerson stopped its distribution.  He clearly believed he was living in the messianic age, but he encouraged his followers to keep studying and carry on with their daily observances. 

BEN: Maybe he was awaiting a sign from God that he was the messiah. He readied himself for the role but the final call never came. 

CHAYA: What intrigues me is that people believe in the Messiah at all. Such a person is expected to do things that are just not going to happen. It’s a bit like believing in a comic-book superhero. What exactly are the expectations about the Jewish Messiah, dad? 

DAD: There are plenty of different ones, Chaya, which is one of the problems with the concept. In terms of traditional expectation, the Messiah will be a descendent of King David who will gather the Jews back to the land of Israel and inaugurate an era of peace. He will then build the Third Temple, have a male heir and reinstitute the Sanhedrin. That’s just for starters. 

CHAYA:  I love the assumption that it’s going to be a man. When the Messiah comes, she’s going to surprise a lot of people. 

BEN: The belief is fantastical but it gives the people hope. I can understand how it arose in Rabbi Schneerson’s time. It was the post-Holocaust age and people needed to believe that a form of religious deliverance was at hand that would more than offset the horrors of the Shoah. It was desperately wishful thinking, but no less understandable for that. 

DAD: The onset of the Gulf War fuelled expectations even further.  Given the fragility and volatility of the Middle Eastern situation, one could argue that every year must seem like an appropriate time for the Messiah to make his appearance. The more dangerous the times, the greater the sense of messianic expectation is. 

BEN: Fear breeds gullibility, in other words. If Rabbi Schneerson had been out in the world, meeting religious and political leaders and swaying world opinion, then one might have been able to entertain a belief that he was some kind of messiah for the people. But I read that he basically always stayed at home and issued pronouncements from there. This wasn’t the activism needed of a messiah. 

DAD: That’s not quite right, Ben. It’s true that he seldom left Crown Heights in Brooklyn and in his later years he moved his study above the central Lubavitch synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway, and spent much of his time there. But he was well known for addressing public gatherings and speaking directly to his followers. Then there were his writings, which were voluminous by any definition of the term. Amazingly, he would draft thoughtful responses to thousands of questions from his congregants. And before his heart attack in 1997, he maintained a twice-weekly practice of Yechidut, which meant that he had private meetings with anyone who wanted to see him. From 1986 he held a weekly audience with people who queued to see him. He gave of himself in ways that put most other religious leaders to shame. 

CHAYA: What fascinates me is that he never visited Israel. That’s one place the Messiah would definitely need to be familiar with. 

DAD: Yes, it’s strange that he never went. You’d think that sheer curiosity would have taken him there, if nothing else. But it’s amazing how many Jewish leaders from Israel came to see him, including Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Moshe Katzav and Benjamin Netanyahu. He was someone with enormous influence within the community and a real stalwart of Orthodox belief and practice. He proclaimed that “Only one who is born of a Jewish mother or converted according to Halakha is Jewish.” You can imagine how well that went down among Reform groups in America. 

BEN: I believe we’re still to discuss the question, “Who is a Jew”, so maybe this is a good time for us to have our dessert and stock up for that debate. 

DAD: To that cause I am always an easy convert. 

 

Sayings 

 

Every Shabbat we read five short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and humor, insightful reflections on this life of ours.

 

Here are tonight’s sayings:

 

·        The world stands firm because of those who close their lips during a quarrel. (Nachman of Bratslav)

·        What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul.

·        The man who can’t bear to hear a word of criticism will have to hear many.

·        What good is beauty without luck?

·        Better a fool that we already know than a wise man that we don’t.

 

Celebration of Great Lives 

 

Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around them.

 

Hannah Einstein (1862-1929) 

 

Hannah Bachman Einstein dedicated her life to noble social causes and one of her notable achievements was to enable single women to be with their children. President of the New York Federation of Sisterhoods and chairperson of the relief committee of the United Hebrew Charities, Einstein wanted to prevent children of widowed or deserted mothers from ending up in institutions.  Her fervent campaigning for a mothers’ pension bore fruit in 1915 when legislation for such a pension was passed. This gave single mothers the financial wherewithal to remain with their children and paved the way for the New York Child Welfare Law.  

 

 

Song 

 

We will now sing a traditional song to conclude our Shabbat celebration. You have a copy of the words, so please join in as we sing.

 

The song is sung

 

Farewell and an Invitation

 

Thank you for coming together to share our Shabbat. May you go out into the new week with renewed strength, confidence and happiness.

 

We now cordially invite you to join us for some coffee and cake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO SING THE SONGS
ADON OLAM WORDS
Adon Olam David Solid Gould & The Temple Rockers
ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS
ALLE BRUDER SONG
ALLE BRIDER SONG
AL KOL ELEH WORDS
AL KOL ELEH
BASHANA words
BASHANA SONG
BEI MIR BIST DU SHEYN
BEI MIR BIST DU SCHEYN SONG
BMBDS song
CHIRIBIM WORDS
CHIRIBIM Song
DAYENU WORDS
DAYENU SONG ENGLISH
DAYENU SONG
DONNA DONNA
DONNA DONNA SONG
HALLELUYA
HALELUJA KARAOKE
HATIKVA
HATIKVA SONG
HATIKVA SONG
DAYENU
HATIKVA WORDS
HATIKVA SONG 1
HAVA NAGILA WORDS
HAVA NAGILA SONG
HAVA NAGILA KARAOKE
HAVEINU SHALOM ALEICHEM
HEVENU SHALOM ALEICHEM WORDS
HEVENU SHALOM ALECHEM SONG
HINEH MA TOV WORDS
JERUSALEM THE GOLD WORDS
JERUSALEM THE GOLD KARAOKE IVRIT
JERUSALEM THE GOLD SONG
JERUSALEM THE GOLD JARAOKE
MAYIM MAYIM WORDS
MAYIM MAYIM DANCE
OIF'N PRIPITSCHOK song
OSE SHALOM
OSE SHALOM SONG
PAPI ROS'N
PAPIROS'N SONG
PARTISAN SONG 1
PARTISAN SONG
PARTISAN SONG MUSIC
RABBI ELIMELEKH
RABBI ELIMELEKH SONG
AS DER REBE SINGT
AS DER REBBE SINGT LEONARD COHEN
AS DER REBBE SINGT SONG
RAISINS WITH ALMONDS WORDS
SIMANTOV U MAZELTOV WORDS
SIMAN TOV MUSIC
MAZELTOV CLARINET
TUMBALALAIKA WORDS
TUMBALALAIKA MUSIC
TUMBALALAIKA MUSIC
TZENA TZENA
TZENA TZENA
TZENA TZENA 4
TZENA TZENA The Weavers
TZENA TZENA WORDS
ALLE BRIDER KLEZMATICS
ALLE BRIDER KLEZMATICS
HATIKVA STREISAND
HATIKVA STREISAND
BIM BAM SHABBAT SHALOM FOR KIDS
BIM BAM SHABBAT SHALOM FOR KIDS
YO EN ESTANDO - SEPHARDIC
ELIYAHU SEPHARDIC
SEPHARDIC SONG
SEPHARDIC SONG 3
Sholem Aleichem Susan Allen
Shalom Aleichem Susan Allen
OTHER VERSIONS OF SONGS
DUVID CROCKET WORDS
DUVID CROCKET MICKEY KATZ
MODERN PASSOVER SONGS
This will help you find yourself]