This Shabbat we read a song, Shirat Ha’azinu. What is the difference between prayer and song? The Kabbalist point out that the words for tefila (prayer) and shira (song) have the same numerical value (515), as if to say that a song is a kind of a prayer but possibly while prayer initially tends to be more spontaneous, a song is more perfect, more thought-through.
The text of this week’s reading is written in two columns as opposed to the usual running text. The words are arranged like bricks, building two towers through layers, one on top of the other. There is a parable about a man who watches a tailor preparing a garment. The man, who does not know the art of sewing, is alarmed when the tailor reaches for the cloth and starts cutting and tearing at it, but the end result is a beautiful garment. To the untrained eye, the song too, is constructed of pieces, torn away from the “regular” words. But then appears one of the most amazing parts of the whole Bible, maybe just as we delve into the New Year, it helps remind us that somewhere, sometime, there is a possibility for perfection; not something we might be able to access all the time; we don’t live in that realm, but it does exist.
The Song opens with Moses telling even heavens and earth to be quiet, because he is now going to be speaking! How dare it? And isn’t he the humblest person to ever lived on the earth, like e-ver? Does he have something to say that’s greater than heaven and earth?
In this section, Moshe summarizes the Torah, prophecies of the messianic era and more, which can be understood as getting ready to learn about eternity. Then we might wonder, how can I too, in my own little personal life, be part of eternity? When Moshe tells heaven and earth to listen to his words (Deuteronomy 32:1), he tells things that we perceive as eternal that he has something greater yet – greater even than heaven and earth; something for which heaven and earth should keep quiet and listen. What is it? “his words”, the words of Torah. Unlike Aaron the High Priest, we know little of Moses’ physical children, but in a way, we are his children, and we got this gift of his, the gift of eternity, having words of Torah.
Coming up: Sukkot:
Almost as soon as Yom Kippur is over, there’s excitement in the air: Sukkot is coming! Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach told that during Neila, the last prayer of Yom Kipuur, when we get scared that the gates will be closed, hashem invites us to his inner most chambers, and whispers in each one’s ears: I have a special invite for you, to come and join me in my summer house; join me there for a week and I’ll heal your heart and soul and give you strength”. This means when we enter the sukkah, we have to feel at home!
Sukkot though, could have chosen a better season: if we commemorate the Children of Israel dwelling in Sukkot, why do it now? We did it for 40 years, with no particular date!? How about combining Sukkot and Pesach, won’t that be so much better? We can eat matza in the sukkah, avoid the crazy cleaning, let the crumbs fall in the yard, while we enjoy the spring!!
But, Sukkot comes davka (especially) when it gets colder outside (fall colors already spotted at Prospect Park!) and everybody thinks about going in and getting ready for winter, we “go out”. You might say that the Torah didn’t know we’d be living in North America and thought more of fall in the Land of Israel but even there it starts raining during this season, so what’s going on?
If we look at our tradition, we notice that “going out” is one of our ‘things”. G-d told Abraham to go out of his homeland and birth place. Jacob had to go out from that homeland. The Children of Israel left their land and then again, left Egypt. We have “gone out” of almost every country we lived in, being dispersed in the world; and then, just when we finally kind of figured out how to live in the diaspora, we leave that to go back to the Land.
To be clear, I am not suggesting a nomadic lifestyle, but there is a certain power in going out: going out of our homes and seeing nature, noticing small and large miracles and other people with their wisdom, joys, and pains; going out of our minds and expanding our thinking; going out as individuals, couples, families, communities, to see that which we don’t yet know.
In the Talmud, among the description of the Temple service, it says that the High Priest used to say: : יותר ממה שקראתי לפניכם כתוב כאן – More than I have read before you, is written here (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 68:b). Should we think that what we have in front of us, is all there is, we’re reminded again and again: there is so much more. Rain or shine, go out and see.
Shabbat Shalom & Chag Same’ach!