Parashat „Ha’azinu“ consists of the last prayer Moshe says, in front of the people. In this wonderful composed prayer, he explains once again that God is perfect, and full of mercy. God is never wrong, he is true and „YaShar“, straight. For the last time, Moshe reminds his people to be honest in their dealings towards God, to remember the past, and to teach the lessons, which can be drawn from the story to the next generation.
The Haftarah, which is linked to this Shabbat, and where this Shabbat’s name is actually taken from, starts with a prophetic warning to Israel, to return to God, – la’shuv.
Both texts are here to give this Shabbat a special meaning. This period between Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur is very special and unique; our relationship with God reaches a different level. From my understanding, it is intended that we get closer to God. During this period, it becomes easier to address God in reviewing the past year – What was good, what was not so good, what went wrong? We are standing in front of the Eternal, as our own lawyers in a trial, presenting our case, ourselves, to the judge.
We have to reveal everything, about the year that has past: the things, that speak for us, and those that speak against us.
As I mentioned before, these 10 days offer to us, the opportunity to travel back in time. To review the past, to assess our individual stories. Through our inner eyes, through hindsight, we go back to the defining moments of the past year. Some might have been sweet and happy, some might have been “once in a lifetime” experiences, some might have been frightening, some sad, and, I am sure, there are even some, we would handle differently today given the chance to repeat them. Am I right?
Moshes words of this week’s portion remind us, to be honest on this journey. Honest, sincere and faithful in front of the Eternal. I would like to add that we probably should start to be honest with ourselves first, because we can’t be open with God, if we can’t be open with ourselves first.
This is a lot to ask. It is a very onerous task, I know. It is much easier to tell someone else the truth than yourself. Very often, we miss something, deliberately, or unintentionally. Or, we just don’t want to accept the truth. “Did I really do that? Did I really say this or that?”
And in contrast, sometimes we are very harsh on ourselves. If others would have been in the same situation we found ourselves in, would we have taken different standards and issues into consideration? Think about how often you have told yourself that you can’t do something, because you do not have enough trust into your own abilities. Sometimes we add too much to our agenda, knowing that it is certainly not possible for one person to accomplish that much.
Teshuva, the returning to God, starts with this honest self-reflection, and our attempts to get a better picture of what we are, and who we are.
But the message of this Shabbat’s readings can be read as not only being meant for us personally, us as individuals. The message can be read in a different way as well. We could read the message as one that is directed at all of us, as a community. We are all collectively responsible for the history, and the future of Israel, as one people. Even the biblical text plays with the double meaning of “Israel”. Firstly, it is the second name of Jacob, and secondly it is the name of the whole nation. Both interpretations are valid. Everyone stands as an individual, in a special relationship to God, and each of us represents Israel as a nation.
Israel as a people needs each of us. We don’t have a king or a high priest, who acts as an official spokesperson for all of us, and is responsible for everything. As Jews, we depend on what each of us can contribute to the collective. This is, what makes Judaism so lively, and diverse. But it places a huge responsibility on everyone’s shoulders to care for others, to be responsible for the well-being of our nation.
By the time we draw a balance for us, we need to do the same regarding our community. We need literally to make Teschuva for our community as well as ourselves. We need to look back, so we can get a clearer picture of what we have achieved as a community during the past year. What was our share in Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world, as a group? What foundations could we construct and strengthen to ensure a Jewish future? What could we do to strengthen our community, our values, our Jewish identity, and our heritage?
Moshes prayer contains another message I haven’t shared yet. He speaks about hope, and consolation. Even if in the balance sheet, we have drawn up for ourselves, and for our community is not as positive as we had hoped it would be, God won’t leave us. God will always stand by our side.
That’s the divine promise. As long as we have faith in God, God will not abandon us, he will be with us through all the moments in our lives, acknowledging that we are human. We aren’t angels, or superheroes, we make mistakes. From time to time we even transgress. We may even forget that we are part of a community responsible for our neighbour in the same way as we are for ourselves. In the words of the Torah, God is straightforward, full of mercy, and compassionate. As long as we try and do our best, be truthful to God – not more but not less – the divine promise is to be with us, as individuals, and with us, as his people Israel.
God was there in the past, God is here for us now, and we can count on the Eternal to be with us in the future – with all the generations to come.