The first words of this week’s parasha “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter!” (Deuteronomy 32:1) take us back to Genesis 1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Those first foundations that were created as initial parts of the chaos are given the role of witnesses in establishing the covenant between God and the people of Israel. What may be perceived as a backdrop to the process of the creation of the world becomes a force for and a dimension of eternity in the preservation of the relationship that floats between the tangible and the spirit.
“Therefore, write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness against the people of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 31:19)
God commands Moses and Joshua to teach this poem to the people of Israel – to feed it to them as a kind of spiritual meal. The poem is full of metaphors and imagery, inviting a multiplicity of interpretations across many levels of meaning. One can return to the poem again and again, and find new hidden corners of understanding. Such is the nature of biblical poetry.
This Parasha is part of the Moses’s farewell to the people of Israel, before his death and before Joshua will take over and lead the people into the Promised Land, ending forty years of desert wanderings. This is a critical moment of transition, of preparing for transition and the next chapter.
The Parasha ends with one of the most dramatic moments in Moses’s life, when God tells him: “Ascend this Mount Avarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab facing Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving the Israelites as their holding.” (Deuteronomy 32:49)
Mount Avarim, which is another name for Mount Nebo, has become a symbol within Jewish culture of a missed opportunity but also an opportunity to come to terms with the end of a period after which something else will follow. From Mount Nebo, Moses can see the next steps but is unable to enter the Land of Israel. Moses pays for his sins and must make way for the next generation of leadership.
Moses dies on Mount Nebo, holding a deep connection between past, present and future. In the poem of Parashat Haazinu, Moses tries to tell the people that his message does not belong only to the past, but is relevant to the here and now and also to future generations. The testimony of heaven and earth is timeless.
A contemporary reading of Haazinu – which literally means “Listen!” or “Give ear!” – raises many questions about the challenges of listening in today’s reality. This week we witnessed the murder of Michal Sela, the 12th woman mudered in Israel this year in domestic violence. We should read Parashat Haazinu this year as a wake up call to listen more closely, and pay attention to the signs of domestic violence, and work as hard as possible to prevent the next death.
October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Even through a brief glance through social media this month, we can see how so many people around us hold a pain which is not always given space.
The Days of Awe and the High Holidays are a time for seeking and giving forgiveness, a time of renewing our connections to our fellow human beings, and giving renewed attention to those in particular who need to be heard and listened to.
In a few days, we will celebrate Sukkot, a holiday that brings us out of the comfort of our homes, into direct contact with the heavens and the earth. We have the opportunity to sharpen our listening and increase our attention to the hidden voices within our communities, and to ask ourselves how we can act better as individuals and as a society as we enter the New Year.
Yael Hirsch-Biderman is the Director of Human Resources at BINA.