By Rabbi Amanda K. Weiss
In Parshat Ha’azinu, the penultimate parshah, Moses powerfully enters the scene, stepping into a divine courtroom to present his final case before Dayan haEmet, the True Judge.
Even the shape of the parshah itself presents dramatically. Ha’azinu is written in two columns, compelling the reader to note the lyrical mastery and poetic nuance of Moses’ words. Bringing forward heaven and earth as witnesses to his words (reminiscent of both Nitzavim and Vayeilech), Moses cries out: “Ha’azinu” — “Cause yourselves to hear!” The entire universe is called to rapt attention for Moses’ impassioned plea.
In his summation, Moses recounts the long and complex history of God’s relationship with the Israelites. He reminds them of God’s unwavering guardianship and guidance throughout the wilderness and the creation of their community.
Moses isn’t shy about shifting the blame to his fellow perpetrators — the Israelites. He acknowledges their shortcomings of ingratitude and rebellion, painting a vivid picture of a wayward nation. It’s as if he’s saying, “Your Honor, I’d like to introduce Exhibit A: our moments of ‘Oops, we did it again!’ But, before you decide — how about we flip through the scrapbook of our entire relationship? You see, it wasn’t only I who made some bad decisions here!”
As Moses proceeds through his closing argument, he transitions into prophetic mode, providing a profound vision for the future of the Israelites. Weighing the reality of rebelliousness and unruliness, Moses hopes that God will still offer hope and redemption.
Moses submits that even when the Israelites are at their worst, “God will vindicate God’s people and avenge God’s servants when God sees that their upper hand has gone and that there is no more restraint or resolution.”
In a climatic crescendo, Moses delivers a resounding call to action. He implores the people to heed God’s commandments, emphasizing the gravity of their choices. “Take to your hearts all of these words which I have brought as witness to you this day. Enjoin them upon your children that they may observe and do all these words that are in this Torah.”
We must live up to our sacred covenant, internally and externally. Moses’ masterful blend of poetry, prophecy, music and moral instruction acts as a closing argument before God (as Divine Judge) and the Israelite people, asking for a reconsideration of the entirety of their relationship (and perhaps a softer reconciliation of his own).
In the stretch between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Ha’azinu serves as a model as we too reflect and attempt to turn and transform during this season. Moses’ impassioned plea echoes through the ages, urging us to choose the path of righteousness, to uphold our covenant with God and to find redemption even in the face of our failings. So, let us “cause ourselves to hear” the call of Ha’azinu, to the wisdom of the ages, and to choose life and goodness in our own journeys. In doing so, we honor the legacy of Moses and prepare ourselves strongly to enter a new year, perhaps even to a more promised future.
Rabbi Amanda K. Weiss is the assistant rabbi of Temple Isaiah in Fulton.