Shabbat Shuva - Ha’azinu
Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is Executive Director of Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.
A Life of Vision
We who are engaged in building Jewish communities must simultaneously look to the past and the future.
This week’s portion, which nearly completes the annual reading of the entire Torah , reflects on the past as it simultaneously offers a powerful vision for the future. As a result, the subtlety of this portion and the myth that has been perpetuated through its common retelling yearns for further exploration.
Moses will not be allowed into the Promised Land. The primary reason offered is his disobedience: he angrily struck the rock for water when he was merely supposed to touch it with his staff, gently coaxing the water from its source (see Numbers 20: 2-13.) Many read this as the explanation for his punishment.
Deuteronomy 29:9 - 31:30
Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman is a noted speaker and author whose work includes the National Jewish Book Award finalist, Sacred Parenting.
The leader of the Israelites is not allowed to enter the Promised Land.
It was the moment for which Moses had prepared nearly all his life. Reared in Egyptian luxury, mothered by a princess, Moses might have lived out his 120 years in careless splendor, unconcerned with the fate of hordes of Israelite slaves who labored outside his palace. Yet, from the moment that Moses –still a young man — slays the Egyptian taskmaster, he chooses to cast his lot with the slaves.
For their sake and their God’s — Moses spends 40 years traversing the wilderness, leading a complaining and defiant people, interceding with an inscrutable and demanding Sovereign, and somehow transforming the despised and oppressed into witnesses of miracles and keepers of revelation. The work is almost finished. God and Moses have brought the people to the edge of the Promised Land, a place Moses will not reach. He will gaze upon it from the heights of Mount Nebo, but he will die before he enters it.
Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8
Andrew F. Klein is the assistant rabbi of Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, Great Barrington, Mass.
Discovering The Relationship Between Curses And Blessings
By viewing the troubles and joys of our lives as part of a continuum we can uncover blessings even in the most challenging curses.
The Israelites are instructed to express their gratitude to God for their bountiful harvests and freedom from slavery by tithing ten percent of their crops for the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow. (Deuteronomy 26)
The people are told to display on large stones God’s commandments for all to see. (Deuteronomy 27:1–8)
The Levites are to proclaim curses upon those who violate God’s commandments. (Deuteronomy 27:15–26)
The Israelites are told that if they obey God’s mitzvot (commandments) faithfully, they will receive every blessing imaginable. They are also told that if do not fulfill their b’rit (covenant) with God, many curses will descend upon them. (Deuteronomy 28:1–69)
Moses reminds the Israelites of the miracles they witnessed in the wilderness and commands them to observe the terms of the covenant so that they may succeed in all that they undertake. (Deuteronomy 29:1–8)
Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19
Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is Executive Director of Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute
We need to stop holding children of intermarriage responsible for decisions their parents made.
This Torah portion appears to be a list of endless and often seemingly irrelevant rules. Some we carefully follow. Others have been assigned to history. Perhaps it is because they are specifically related to a time and place that no longer speaks to us. Often, it is because we do not understand the depth of wisdom contained in the Torah’s directives for our daily lives. Even if the specific obligation may be obscure, the principle that underlies it may bring insight and meaning into our lives.
What is indeed woven through the portion is a sense of obligation and responsibility, especially among the generations. One rule in particular we can relate to, whether we are parents or children. Perhaps it is extreme but we understand its sentiment nonetheless: “Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents; a person shall be put to death only for his own crime (Deuteronomy 24:16).”
Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9
Rabbi Matthew V. Soffer, a graduate of HUC-JIR-NYC, is associate rabbi of Temple Israel of Boston
Why the Torah equates human life with the life of a tree.
This week’s Torah portion is a touchstone text within Jewish environmentalism, as it contains the commandment “not to destroy” trees in the field (“bal taschit”). Eventually, throughout Jewish legal history, it evolves into the broader concept of not wasting our natural resources. In this portion God tells the Israelites that while amid the military operations of conquest, they must not destroy any fruit-bearing trees. One may clearly deduce the practicality of this law, but the reasoning is rather peculiar, raising more questions than it answers.
The text reads: When in your war against a city you have to besiege it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Ki haadam eitz hasadeh lavo mipanecha? Is the tree of the field human to withdrawal before you into the besieged city?” (Deuteronomy 20:19)