Moshe's Final Song
The final song of Moshe is the main subject of this week’s parsha. It is a
dark one to contemplate. Though it promises a happy ending for Israel, at
the end it outlines a long list of travail and challenges, tragedies and
losses on the way. Moshe raises but does not answer the underlying question
of Jewish history: Why are the people of Israel apparently fated to suffer
such continuing calamities?
The underlying reasons seemingly are connected to Jewish behavior itself,
but to our finite and seemingly rational minds this reason is often deemed
to be insufficient to justify the disproportionate troubles of Israel.
Factoring our permanent and never ending minority status in the world
population, it still seems to be highly unfair for the Jewish people to bear
the downturns that Moshe accurately forecasts for them in the song of Haazinu.
It is no accident of chance that the parsha is always read in public in the
Yom Kippur season of the Jewish year. It – the Torah reading -combines
within it the awe and dread of the day of Yom Kippur coupled with its
message of hope, forgiveness and healing. The parsha fits the season of the
year with its mood of solemnity – as well as confident hope. The parsha
reflects the Jewish story and mood perfectly. Troubles and hope, trepidation
and optimism combine to define our personal and national lives. Haazinu
speaks to us as a timeless gem of commentary on our current situation and
Rashi on Haazinu quotes the two opinions of Rabi Yehuda and Rabi Nechemia
regarding who is the main subject of the bulk of the middle part of the
parsha – is it the Jewish people or the nations of the world generally? Like
many apparent differences of opinion that appear in Talmud and Midrash, here
also it is possible to say that both opinions are correct and accurate.
History has shown us time and again that the Jewish people are the canary in
the mine and that the fate of other nations and even of the world as a whole
is tied to the Jewish story and its happenings. Europe was destroyed in the
twentieth century because of the story of the Jews. The Soviet Union
disappeared coincidentally and not accidentally because of Soviet Jewry, the
State of Israel and Jewish dissidents and refuseniks.
The troubles of the world are many and bitter, dangerous and threatening.
Yet they somehow seem to have a connection to the Jewish people, their
problems and status in world events, no matter how forced and tenuous it may
appear. So both opinions in Midrash are correct. Moshe’s song applies to
Israel and to the nations of the world as well.
Their fate is bound up with our destiny and our challenges. And the eventual
settling of accounts that Moshe describes at the end of his song of Haazinu
affect the general world no less than they do the people of Israel. May the
comforting end of the song be the beginning of our great and good new year.
Gmar chatima tova,
Rabbi Berel Wein