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Torah Sparks

September 18, 2004 - 25 Elul 5764

Annual: Deuteronomy 32:1 - 32:52 (Etz Hayim, p. 1185; Hertz p. 896)
Triennial Cycle: Deuteronomy 32:1 - 32:52 (Etz Hayim, p. 1185; Hertz p. 896)
Haftarah: Hosea 14:2 - 10 (Etz Hayim, p. 1235; Hertz p. 891); Joel 2:15 - 27; [Micah 7:18-20]

Prepared by Rabbi Naomi Levy
Author of To Begin Again and Talking to God

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Parasha Summary

In our Torah portion this Shabbat Moshe calls the Children of Israel together to hear his song. The Torah contains two songs ascribed to Moshe that serve as bookends to his life as the leader of Israel. The Song at the Sea occurs at the beginning of Moshe's rise to leadership and Haazinu marks the end of his period of leadership. The poem speaks about Israel's past, its present and its future. It is a song of encouragement, of hope and of faith in the God who loves them. After the recitation of this poem God instructs Moshe to ascend Mount Nevo where he will be able to see the Promised Land from a distance and where he will die.

Discussion Theme 1: Where Does Prayer Lead?

Listen, O heavens, and I shall speak, hear O earth, the words of my mouth. My discourse shall come down as the rain… . For the name of the Lord shall I call; give glory to our God… Understand the years of generation after generation. Ask your father and he will tell you, question your elders and they will respond. (Deut 32:1,2,3,7)

Derash: Study

  1. "Listen O heavens"- It was taught: Why did Moshe call heaven and earth to bear witness over Israel? Moshe said: I am flesh and blood. Tomorrow I shall die. If they wish to say: We never received the Torah, who shall refute them? Therefore, I shall call to bear witness over them two witnesses that live forever. (Sifrei quoted in Torah Temimah p 367)
  2. "As the rain"- The Torah is being compared to rain. Just as the rain is life to the world, so words of Torah are life to the world (Ibid)
  3. Just as the rain is one, and it descends on the tree and imparts to each a distinct flavor: to the grapevine, in accordance with its nature; to the olive tree in accordance with its nature; and to the fig tree in accordance with its nature - so too, words of Torah are one and they impart to each a distinct "flavor" (Ibid)
  4. "For the name of the Lord shall I (singular) call; give (plural) glory to our God." The rabbis derive many famous traditions of responsive prayer from this verse because it begins in the singular and concludes in the plural. Three who have eaten together must recite grace as a quorum. (One begins "Rabotay nevarech," the others then must respond) From where is this derived? "For the name of God shall I call; give glory to our God. (Brachot 45a quoted in Torah Temimah p371)
  5. From where is it derived that when one prays "Let us bless the blessed Lord" (Barchu at Adonai Hamevorach) the others reply "Blessed is Adonai who is blessed forever and ever?" (Baruch Adonai Hamevorach Le-olam Va-ed) From "For the name of the Lord shall I call; give glory to our God." (Sifrei, Ibid)
  6. "Give greatness" - From here it is derived that for every blessing that one hears, one must reply "Blessed is God and blessed is God's name." (Baruch Hu Uvaruch Shemo) (Rosh Response, Ibid)
  7. Understand the years of generation after generation: to each generation and to each era there comes from Heaven a new understanding of the Torah. It is revealed according to the nature of that time and place. The righteous of each generation accept the Torah in the light of its interpretation by the leaders and wise ones of their generation. (Chidushei HaRim quoted in Munk, Call of the Torah p 358)
  8. "Ask you father" -- This verse is used as a proof text to support mitzvot ordained by the rabbis and to institute the formulation "who has commanded us" for blessings which were never actually commanded by God. How do we know that God commanded us to do this? Rabbi Nechemiah said: From this verse, for your father will tell you of God's miracles and thereby obligate you. (Shabbat 23a quoted in Plout p 1565)

Questions for Discussion

  1. Have you written an ethical will? What words of wisdom would you like to impart to the next generation?
  2. The nature of responsive prayer implies that a single person's act of devotion can lead others into the world of prayer. Have you had a spiritual mentor? Can you describe the relationship and what you have learned? Have you been a mentor to someone else? What have you taught them?
  3. Every generation brings with it a new understanding of Torah. What does the motto of Conservative Judaism "Tradition and Change" mean to you?

Discussion Theme 2: Promises

See that I, I am the One, there is no God beside Me. I deal death and give life. (Deut 32:39)

Derash: Study

  1. When Moshe encountered God at the burning bush and asked for God's name, God said: "I will be what I will be" which is a promise for the future. Now in the sight of the Promised Land, God speaks in the present tense as the God who has fulfilled a promise: "I, I am the One" (Chatam Sofer quoted in Plout, p 1566)
  2. The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 21:3) recounts that God's disposition to hear us even before we call out to God is found whenever there is a twofold mention of the divine name. This name emphasizes God's love, the One who answers even our unspoken prayers. (Quoted in Munk, p365)
  3. I deal death and give life - These words affirm the principle of resurrection of the dead. Rambam makes it the last of his thirteen principles of faith. We affirm faith in resurrection every time we recite the second blessing of the Amida.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Do you think God's promises in the Torah have been fulfilled? Are they in the process of being fulfilled? What part of the promise do you believe is in God's hands? What part is in human hands?
  2. Yom Kippur is almost upon us. What promises have you failed to fulfill? What talents have you ignored? God is waiting for us to live up to the potential that lies dormant within us.
  3. o you sometimes feel lost at High Holiday services? If you find yourself feeling lost, remember that we don't have to be on the right page -- God hears even our silent longings.
  4. Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead? Did you know that this belief was a source of contention between the Pharisees and Saducees? Did you know it was a core belief of the rabbis who instituted the second blessing of the Amidah?

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