Thoughts on Ha’azinu

Remember two weeks ago, at the end of the double parashat, Nitzavim-Vayelech, Moses had publicly commissioned Joshua to take over in his stead and had just finished writing the words of the Torah scroll that would be placed in the Ark of the Covenant in the Mishkan. Then Moshe set the stage for the recitation of Ha’azinu, Deuteronomy 32:1-52, stating,

Gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officials, so that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will certainly act corruptly and turn aside from the way I have commanded you. So evil will fall upon you in the latter days, because you will do what is evil in the sight of ADONAI, provoking Him to anger by the work of your hands.”

Deuteronomy 31:28-29*

Moses then begins his song with a proclamation of HaShem’s greatness and righteousness, which is immediately followed with a recitation of Israel’s covenantal disobedience and divinely inspired discipline. Another Scripture comes to mind at this point; HaShem’s promise of hope through Jeremiah when Jerusalem was under siege. 

“For I know the plans that I have in mind for you,” declares ADONAI, “plans for shalom and not calamity—to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

On the one hand, Ha’azinu seems to be anything but hopeful. Israel is pronounced blemished (32:5), foolish and unwise (32:6), ones who turned their backs on God (32:15), and even sacrificing to demons and non-gods (32:17). In response HaShem proclaimed, 

“I will hide My face from them, I want to see their hereafter. For they are an upside down generation,children with no faithfulness in them.”

Deuteronomy 32:20

I find it interesting that the TLV translated תַּהְפֻּכֹת (tahpuḵoṯ), which is normally translated as a “perverse” generation, with a modern Hebrew concept of being upside down. The slang for a cappuccino or latte in Hebrew, when we are not in lockdown, is café hafuk. Literally this means upside down coffee because the lower portion of the cup is expresso coffee and the upper is steamed milk. For the purists among us, such a coffee is unthinkable. But for those who choose to follow an obviously unnatural way with added milk, this cup of coffee is truly upside down. 😊 Indecently, the Message translates this passage about errant Israel as, “Oh, they’re a turned-around, upside-down generation! Who knows what they’ll do from one moment to the next?” **

On the other hand, after completing his recitation of everything of Israel’s disobedience and subsequent punishment, Moses offers Israel hope, 

Put in your hearts all the words that I call as witness against you today—that you may command your children to keep and do all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing for you, because it is your life! By this word you will prolong your days on the land, which you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.

Deuteronomy 32:46-47

The words, “It is not an empty thing for you, it is your life!” are reminiscent of Moses early admonition,

I call the heavens and the earth to witness about you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life so that you and your descendants may live, by loving ADONAI your God, listening to His voice, and clinging to Him.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

Time and time again we hear Moses encouraging, even pleading with Israel to make the right choice. The prophet Ezekiel declares a similar plea from HaShem,

“As I live”—it is a declaration of ADONAI— “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Return, return from your evil ways. Why will you die, O house of Israel?”

Ezekiel 33:11

We are currently in the Days of Awe, that period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when we examine ourselves to ensure that we are in right standing with our God and with our fellow man. Like Israel of old, we have a choice to make—to do right and live or not to do right and suffer the consequences. Rav Shaul, reminds us that even today HaShem is waiting for us to make the right choice. He first reminds us that we should learn from Israel’s experiences and then assures us of HaShem’s assistance if we choose to look to him.

These are all warning markers—DANGER!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. 

1 Corinthians 10:11-13 **

The choice, as always, remains with us – to choose life and follow the ways of HaShem or to choose our own way which ultimately leads to discipline, and sometimes to destruction. Let’s follow Moses’ admonition and “…choose life so that you and your descendants may live, by loving ADONAI your God, listening to His voice, and clinging to Him.”

* Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

** The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson.

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