Category Archives: Scripture

Linking Heaven and Earth + G-d to Us – Ha’azinu 5772

Ki cheilek Hashem amo; Ya’akov chevel nachalaso.” “For Hashem’s portion is His people, Jacob a rope of his possession.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 32:9)

This week we read Parshas Ha’azinu. It is the song G-d commanded Moses to teach to the Children of Israel at the end of the previous parsha. Heaven and earth are called to be a witness to all of the disasters that will befall the Nation if it strays from the path that G-d has set. Then it describes the joy that will come at the time of the final redemption.  At the end of the parsha G-d gives Moses his last mitzvah.

On this Erev Yom Kippur, we receive a timely reminder that we are G-d’s people. But why is Jacob compared to a rope?

Rashi notes that as the third of the patriarchs, Jacob had the merits of his grandfather Abraham, his father Isaac, and his own. He is like a rope made of three strands. In each of the services we will invoke his memory, and that of our other forefathers, partly in the hope that his triple merit will redound to us.

In his seminal work on mysticism, the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi compares a rope whose upper end is bound above and whose lower end is bound below to the soul: its upper end in Heaven and its lower end clothed in the body.

The notion of rope has many applications to our lives. Its many strands are reflective of the numerous interwoven middos (character traits) that make up our personalities. As we pray this Yom Kippur, perhaps we can strengthen the positive fibers while beginning the laborious process of unraveling the negative ones.

We, as a people, are like a rope in that one of us may be so delicate we snap, but together we form a virtually unbreakable bond. It is this strength we seek with our tefilos (prayers) this Yom Kippur and every time we come together in prayer.

Finally, harkening back to Rav Zalman’s image, each of the 613 mitzvos is one filament of the broader rope connecting us to G-d. If we neglect performing one or more of them, some of the filaments will disconnect, weakening the rope. Whatever we do on earth that tugs on the rope, it inevitably impacts G-d. If we fall, we drag down the Master of the World too.

Sad as it may seem that we can pull G-d down with us, joyfully we find that even at our lowest point, the rope still connects us. Infinitely caring parent that He is, we are never alone. Though deeply pained as we jerk the rope all around, patiently, eagerly He awaits our return.

Question – What other images does a rope bring to mind? Please leave a comment below.

Choose Life, But What Kind? – Netzavim 5772

This Shabbos we read Parshas Netzavim. In it Moses reminds the Children of Israel about the covenant with G-d, to shun idolatry, that they will transgress but then repent and G-d will redeem them, that the Torah will always be near to them, and the famous charge that between life and death they should choose life.

In Devarim/Deuteronomy 30:19, Moses says, “I call to witness against you today the heavens and the earth, the life and the death I have placed before you, the blessing and the curse; and you will choose life in order that you will live, you and your offspring.

Nu (Yiddish for well), who would choose death? While someone in the depth of depression might, in reality the passage is not proposing a choice between physical life and death

A related question: why are the heavens and earth serving as witnesses? Rashi explains. In his commentary to the passage he says: “the Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Israel, “Take a look at the heavens that I created to serve you. Might they have deviated from their character? . . Take a look at the earth that I created to serve you. Might it have deviated from its character?” The sun always does that which G-d created it to do: rises in the east and sets in the west. The earth yields plants according to the seeds that are sown. Steadfast though they are, they receive no reward and if they were to sin they would not receive punishment. How much more fortunate are we that Our Heavenly Parent blesses us for righteous behavior and uses His guiding hand to redirect us when we stray from the correct path.

So when Moses adjures us to choose life, he is urging us to opt to follow in G-d’s way, to do His mitzvahs so that we will lead purposeful and productive lives. In this final week before Rosh Hashanah let us ponder the choice we are making for the coming year, remembering that we will pray that G-d inscribes us for another year in the Book of Life. Physical life, to be sure, but more importantly a life dedicated to Torah and virtuous deeds.

Do you recall a time when you chose life? What were your options and how did you feel after choosing?

 

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