Ha’azinu-Shabbat Shuva - Weekly Torah Portion


It is not the threats of a pandemic that have to be the focus of the discourse during the days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. Rather, these days are supposed to be days of reflection, time for social interaction, and the fixing of that which is broken. Instead it seems that what we are experiencing are days of confusion and perplex, social distancing, and what seems to be as a continued barrage of distortions. Truth to be said, the coronavirus is new, not really known and not fully understood. It is therefore natural to expect certain uncertainty that will lead to wrong decision making, some severe, and not always avoidable. On the other hand, there is no justification whatsoever to the low level of management of a complex affair displayed today.

In the Haftarah of this shabbat we read the words of the prophet Hosea, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, / For you have stumbled because of your iniquity”. He also explains what are the necessary changes to overcome the failures, “return to the Lord. / Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity / And receive us graciously, / That we may present the fruit of our lips. / Assyria will not save us, / We will not ride on horses; / Nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’ / To the work of our hands; / For in You the orphan finds mercy.’” The prophet calls to leave the ways that lead to disaster, not to set eyes for a foreign king for salvation, nor to some god replacement for refuge. We are the ones who create the problems and therefore must comprehend that they will suffer from our own limitations.

Moses, addressing the people reciting the poem of Ha’azinu, compares the gap between a perfect behavior and that of a human being, “Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; / And let the earth hear the words of my mouth… / The Rock! His work is perfect, / For all His ways are just; / A God of faithfulness and without injustice, / Righteous and upright is He.” Moses now reflects on the people of Israel, “…O foolish and unwise people / … But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked— / You are grown fat, thick, and sleek— / Then he forsook God who made him, / And scorned the Rock of his salvation.” The words of the prophet Hosea and those of Moses are intertwined by a clear warning. It is ever so easy to own our successes as if they are solely a result of our doing. Eventually we become our own god, convinced we can make no mistake, that we deserve everything, and it will all explode back into our face.

The prophet says, “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; / Whoever is discerning, let him know them. / For the ways of the Lord are right, / And the righteous will walk in them, / But transgressors will stumble in them.” Quite strange may one argue. Walking the same route and reaching different results?! Those who succeed are those who do it righteously, with justice at the lead. The same ride can be bumpy and torturous to those not putting ahead of the social principles that build a just and fair society, one that takes responsibility of its weakest, lends hand to the injured, a society that is led by justice.

Unfortunately, as citizens of this wonderful state we have not seen much of it lately. Instead we experienced the pull and push of political maneuvers aiming to provide benefits to some groups over others. We did not see the raising above that which leads to failure, the “Curds of cows, and milk of the flock, / With fat of lambs, / And rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats, / With the finest of the wheat— / And of the blood of grapes you drank wine.” This abundance of wealth is unsustainable even if important. It cannot survive the lack of a core leadership ability that begins at the top and resonates in the hearts of all. Nevertheless, let us not make the mistake of leaving it all to the top echelons of leadership. Even when the leaders are confused and come up with confusing orders, we have the obligation to act responsively, following some of the odd orders we receive even if they are misleading, even if they are not the best. We have the mutual responsibility to our fellow citizens which is to reduce the extent of this pandemic in Israel. Maybe then we can enjoy the blessing of Hosea, “I will be like the dew to Israel; / He will blossom like the lily, / And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon. / His shoots will sprout, / And his beauty will be like the olive tree / And his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon. / Those who live in his shadow / Will again raise grain, / And they will blossom like the vine. / His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.”

Shana Tova, Shabbat Shalom and wishes for good health to all.

Reuven Marko, 25 September 2020, 8 Tishrei, 5781

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