Ha’azinu

Deuteronomy 32:1 – 32:52

(Listen)
This porton consists of the final farewell song of Moses.

THE BLESSING

HA’AZINU BEGINS with Moses addressing Heaven and Earth, exclaiming the nature of Torah and the character of Divine blessing as it manifests in our world. It is like the rain that falls, giving Life to the Land. It is like the dew that moistens Reality itself, making it supple, fragrant, alive and fluid. After blessing us with these succulent and watery images of Divine generosity, Ha’azinu returns us to the Ground of Being, to the solidity on which we stand. Seven times in this poem, God is called “Tzur,” The Rock.

Through the wilderness of our lives we are called to return again and again to the Presence of God who supports us, who is the ground beneath our feet. Because of the solidity of this Rock, we can stand upright. Each time we stumble, each time we fall into distraction, forgetfulness, confusion or complacency, we can again find our bearings and push against the Rock of God beneath us in order to stand upright. In fact, in Ha’azinu, Jeshurun* (Upright) becomes our name.

And so Ha’azinu blesses us with these images or ways to understand and receive God’s Presence. God is like the rain and dew, giving Life to all. God is like the Rock on which everything rests, allowing us to stand upright and find our footing as we traverse this wilderness. Rain and dew are Heavenly images, while Rock is the essence of Earth. Heaven and Earth are the aspects within us that are called upon to hear this final sublime message. Heaven and Earth receive the blessing of Ha’azinu through their attentive witness.

AND WE ARE GIVEN YET ANOTHER METAPHOR that includes and transcends both Heaven and Earth:

Back in the Book of Exodus, God was a mother eagle who carried us on her wings to our Freedom. And now that same Mother Eagle God has returned to stir the nest — that tangle of branches where we doubt, procrastinate and hesitate. She urges us to Flight, exhorting us to receive the legacy of our Freedom. The Mother Eagle God reminds us, her fledglings, that we are not limited to either Heaven or to Earth. We are blessed with both the fluid and the firm. And we are blessed with the ability to soar between them.

As we return again and again to the Rock on which we stand — feeling God beneath our feet supporting us on this journey — we might be deceived into thinking that this Rock is unresponsive, without love or tenderness. We might even be tempted to strike the Rock in frustration or anger. Laboring under this misapprehension, we would be missing the sweetest mystery… for, when we come to the highest places, the places of remembrance and true presence, the delicious bounty of Life will be ours. We will then suckle and be nourished by honey from that very Rock, and we will be anointed with the choicest oil from what had once seemed the hardest crevice.

HA’AZINU BLESSES US with this remembrance: The hardest and most difficult places on our journey may ultimately become the greatest sources of our Redemption and Nourishment. Only when we rise to the spiritual challenges before us, do we receive Life’s bounty. Our awareness can transform those difficult places on our journey into fountains of blessing.

* Jeshurun is a poetic name for Israel/Jacob that appears just 4 times in the Bible: Deut: 32:15, 33:5, 33:26, and Isaiah 44:2. While the name Jacob hints at deceitfulness, Jeshurun contradicts that tendency. It is probably derived from the root Y-Sh-R which means “direct/straight/upright,” or “righteous.” Perhaps we become Israel when our inner drama leads deceitful Jacob to become fully integrated with righteous Jeshurun.

THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE

HA’AZINU DESCRIBES those difficult places. These are the spiritual challenges we are given – times of great suffering — which are the result of our forgetfulness.

We forget to turn back to our Source, the only true font of sustenance. We forget to trust the Rock beneath us… and instead search for God somewhere faraway and remote. We grasp after something external and remain unsatisfied.

Ha’azinu describes this state of alienation from our Source in vividly stark and cruel language:

Outside: A sword will bereave, and
Inside: Terror (Deuteronomy 32:25)

We have somehow become drunk on the wrong wine — a poisonous brew made from the grapes of Sodom and Gomorrah (a place famous for its hatred and meanness). Wisdom means understanding the future that you are creating for yourself with your present actions… and this wine, which is called serpent’s venom… dissolves that understanding.

“Outside: A sword will bereave.” Every time we close our hearts and lift our hand against another, we ourselves will be bereaved. We will lose access to the power of goodness at our core. Every time we raise our voice in blame or hatred, we wound ourselves with our own sword.

“… and Inside: Terror.” Every act or word of violence or cruelty conceals the growing terror within.

It’s easy for me to acknowledge this state of alienation in the world, where my country wages war after war, concealing its terror of “the stranger,” and where genocide and the brutal domination and destruction of cultures and of the earth itself are the norm. I can see that war against the “other” as an easy option, serves to conceal the terror that hides within our own borders, within our own hearts.

IT IS EASY FOR ME to acknowledge our culture’s addiction to violence and the meanness of politics that feeds our own cynicism. At times like this, God’s face is hidden behind the mask of a cruel warrior… which is merely the reflection of our own hidden terror. It’s easy for me to become comfortably self-righteous and join with like-minded rebels to build up our case against the powers-that-be.

WHAT IS HARDER FOR ME (and here lies the true spiritual challenge of Ha’azinu) is acknowledging my own complicity. At times, I also drink from the poison wine. I wield the sword which is the cause of my own bereavement. I hide a terror within. I am a microcosm of the world that I so adeptly criticize.

Ha’azinu challenges us by warning, “It is not a worthless thing… it is your life.” It is not possible to avoid the pain of life… but when we react to the inevitable pains and difficulties of life by becoming bitter, negative and judgmental or by blaming others… then we turn our pain into suffering. Suffering is the magnification and reification of pain. When we become that pain and spiral down into an identification with negativity… then our lives become a “worthless thing.” We lose sight of the cosmos of which we are a part. We lose touch with our own power and essential goodness. Ha’azinu lifts up each moment and says, “It is your life! What will you do with it just now?”

GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE

HA’AZINU INSTRUCTS, “Remember the days of old.” I have planted this memory of innocence in you. It may be a memory of childhood or of the childhood of humanity. Remember a time when My teachings could be received in the nurturing rain, when My Torah was simply understood in the morning dew. Remember when I led you through the wilderness and showed you the secret high places. And there you ate directly from the soft and nurturing breast of the field. There you suckled honey from the rock. The wine you drank was pure and its intoxication opened your eyes wider to My Presence everywhere.

And then something changed. Somehow you were corrupted and began to take the Rock for granted, ignoring the very foundation of existence.

WHENEVER SOME ASPECT of our being is forgotten or ignored or denied, its Shadow inevitably emerges. In Ha’azinu, the Shadow-God is a bloodthirsty warrior intent on vengeance. “I’ll make my arrows drunk with blood and my sword will eat flesh!” The God that you have denied will destroy you.

The spiritual practice of Ha’azinu is to “Remember the days of old,” to journey back to the innocence that is buried in our personal and collective memory. We must take this journey without sentimentality or nostalgia… for now we return to the wisdom of childhood as fully conscious and responsible adults.

THE MORNING LITURGY SAYS:

Elohai neshama shenatata bi, tehorah hi.
My God, the soul/breath that
You place in me is completely pure.

Remembrance Meditation

OUR PRACTICE FOR HA’AZINU IS TO TAKE THIS JOURNEY to our essential purity so that we can re-member the Rock beneath our feet and re-connect with the Source of sweet honey that flows from that Rock. These words from the liturgy can help us to take that journey.

I ALWAYS BEGIN THIS PRAYER WITH A FEW MINUTES OF CONCENTRATION ON MY BREATH, following the in-breath all the way to the place deep inside the Heart/Temple that is called “The Holy of Holies.” Whatever corruption or confusion or cynicism that has entered my life has not penetrated to the Holy of Holies, that place of essential purity.

I BREATHE IN — to the Holy of Holies within me — and breathe out from those depths. With each breath I am remembering that in spite of the ways I have been corrupted, there is a core goodness waiting to be acknowledged and re-birthed.

WHEN I SING THE WORD “ELOHAI,” I am calling on my God, not necessarily the God of my ancestors, or the God that I learn about from others. When I sing to “my God,” I open to the Force that embraces, supports and sends me just now.

WHEN I SING THE WORD, “NESHAMA,” (“SOUL”) I remember that there is an opportunity given to me with each and every breath to come into greater awareness and compassion. (The Hebrew word neshimah means breath and is from the same root as neshamah-soul.)

WHEN I SING THE WORDS, “SHE’NATATA BI,” (“THAT YOU HAVE PLACED IN ME”) I remember to open myself in gratitude for this gift of my life.

AND WHEN I SING THE WORDS, “TEHORAH HI,” (“SHE IS PURE”), I remember the truth of who I am at my core. I visualize myself as a newborn baby, completely innocent and pure and connected to the Source… and I know that this newborn still lives inside me as a teacher, as a savior. She is teaching me to be reborn, to be fully alive and open to God in this moment. She is saving me from my own corruption, showing me the Rock of God beneath my feet.


Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.