Keeping balanced: privilege and gratitude
With Yom Kippur just behind us and Sukkot just ahead of us, we turn our attention to the last sedra of the Torah read on Shabbat (the very last sedra V’zot Habracha is only read at Simchat Torah). Ha’azinu is the song Moses teaches the people as an everlasting testimony just before his death. It discusses the consequences of Israel’s (the people’s) betrayal of God. Unfortunately, from the time of the giving the Torah, through the 40 years that Moses guided the people through the wilderness and until this very day, the cycle of the relationship between the people and God has been one of distancing and then coming close again. The poem of Ha’azinu recalls that tumultuous pattern: God is the faithful one who created us, who chose the descendants of Jacob to be an exemplary nation. Instead, we “waxed and grew fat” and forsook God for worship of the material world. Eventually after a period of trial and tribulation, the relationship will be healed. The poem concludes with God taking back the people and Moses telling the people to engage with Torah for it is “your very life.”
We are in the heart of the month of Tishrei, the month that particularly encourages one to reengage with God and Torah. We all have many different understandings of what the source of life we call God can be – but at the heart of each of them is that each of us is part of the One and therefore each person has a spark of holiness and should be respectful of that holiness in others. The words of Torah, followed by thousands of years of teaching of tradition, can help us stay connected to these ideas. We do not have to go through the pattern described by Ha’azinu, which suggests when we are in need we turn to God, and when we become wealthy and privileged we become selfish and greedy. We can break that cycle, showing that even with the incredible material wealth and blessing of security we have now in our lives, we will not become complacent but even more grateful and aware of others less fortunate.
The name of the poem “Ha’azinu” teaches us to be balanced in our life; the word “Ha’azinu”, meaning listen, is related to the Hebrew word “ozen”, which means balance. Ha’azinu is always read in the month of Tishrei, parallel to the sign of Libra, whose symbol is the scales and balance. Let us take the energy of these last ten days of awe and repentance into this Shabbat and days of the year ahead. May we balance our introspection with outreach and our privilege with tzedakah; may we remember the source of love that feeds us and provide that nurturing to others with generosity, compassion and loving kindness.
Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins