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Singing, Summarizing, and Simcha

09/23/2021 02:20:17 PM


            Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Ha’azinu, in which Moses addresses the Israelites for the final time, singing them a song that warns of the future, containing blessings and curses. It is a beautiful song, but also quite dark in parts, and the parasha is the end of Moses’s life. Next Shabbat we will jump back to Exodus for a special Sukkot reading, and then it will be Simchat Torah where we will read the final words of Deuteronomy, Moses’s death, before we immediately restart the whole thing back at Genesis.

          Because of the morbid and punishing tone of this Torah portion, it may not seem like an easy one for a Bat Mitzvah. Luckily, tomorrow we are celebrating the Bat Mitzvah of a slightly older student with the maturity to write a serious drash about the content matter of this parasha. She also happens to be a singer-songwriter, so hearing her chant Moses’s farewell song will be beautiful. So please tune in tomorrow morning on YouTube to hear her expand on this parasha for herself.

          The ending of the parasha also gives us a little opening to link this Torah portion as a whole to B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies in general. After Moses finishes singing, he then says (and I imagine here a dramatically soft voice after the power of a full-on ballad of the prophecy): “Take to heart all the words with which I have warned you this day. Enjoin them upon your children, that they may observe faithfully all the terms of this Teaching. For this is not a trifling thing for you: it is your very life; through it you shall long endure on the land that you are to possess upon crossing the Jordan.” Many of the commentators, each in their own words, explain here that there are many things in the Torah whose meaning is not immediately obvious – seemingly superfluous details, obscure references, phrases which appear to mean one thing but may really mean another – and we must teach future generations how to engage fully and meaningfully with the Torah in order to pick up on and further interpret those hidden gems. This is the whole point of being Jewish, this is what gives meaning to our lives. Scripture and liturgy tell us that following these commandments lengthens our days. Even if that is not literally true, it is what makes our days enriching, and thus feel longer and more fulfilled.

          As our Bat Mitzvah steps up to accept the Torah this Shabbat, may she find depth and value in our traditions. May her family find joy and pride in having passed on these teachings, even if through previously untraditional means. And may we all revel in the blessings of generations of Judaism that have come before us and will come after us, keeping alive the songs of Torah. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Sat, May 28 2022 27 Iyyar 5782